Kaizen is a Japanese word which means improvement or to change for the better, but it is also a philosophy or set of practices which many businesses use to help them focus on continuous improvement of their processes in manufacturing.  While it has been applied in many industries including health care, banking, engineering and government, it is often seen as most popular in industry and manufacturing.  When a company decides to incorporate the Kaizen philosophy to their practices they should look at every procedure and process done throughout the company and work on optimizing them at every level.

A successful Kaizen initiative could be something as small as improving the way in which an item is moved when it is needed for a task or as complex as re-engineering the way two major areas of a business interact.  Most of the time a single Kaizen initiate will focus on as narrow an area as possible in order to help improve it.  These initiatives should help improve in at least one of the five founding elements which are:

  • Teamwork
  • Personal Discipline
  • Improved Morale
  • Quality Circles
  • Suggestions for Improvement

In many cases it is possible to develop significant improvement in several of these five elements.  If, for example, you are looking for a way to improve the efficiency of a particular task which is done by a small group of people in your organization you can begin by focusing on teamwork.  Finding ways that each member of the team can take on a very specific task, for example, may help complete the whole job more quickly.  Once you’ve identified areas for improvement for teamwork you can implement a suggestion box or a method for which each member of the team can pose possible opportunities for improvement to the team.  This will improve teamwork and suggestions for improvement, and possibly even improved morale.

In many cases each of the five major elements of the Kaizen philosophy can interact with each other to open up additional opportunities for improved efficiency that may not have been realized otherwise.  In addition to finding places where improvement can be done today, Kaizen should be the foundation for ongoing improvement throughout any organization.  This continuous improvement process can help virtually any type of business stay incredibly competitive and remain successful for years to come.

When it comes to the manufacturing industry there are many different areas where the Kaizen philosophy can help.  An initiative can be focused on one or more major areas ranging from efficiency to safety or even quality.  The constant improvement in each of these areas is critical and can make a huge difference in the way any company is run.

Identifying each task that is done within a particular company and working with the management team as well as those who perform those tasks to identify where improvements can be made is an excellent way to have a successful Kaizen initiative.  Just remember, unlike many projects, these initiatives should be seen as a beginning, not an end.  Ongoing improvement for the life of the company is the goal of Kaizen.

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