The Tools of Kaizen

Kaizen is the methodology and philosophy of making small continuous improvements in business. It can be both an ongoing daily commitment or be implemented in a series of Kaizen events. Kaizen involves employers from all levels and works to make small incremental changes in nearly every aspect of the workplace. There are many tools used in Kaizen and the following are just a few suggestion to introduce and practice effective Kaizen activities.

PDCA Cycle: Kaizen activities, whether they’re weeklong events or the daily practice of Kaizen, are often carried out in the Plan > Do >Check> Act (PDCA) Cycle. The cycle consists of four stages and gives a scientific method to testing hypotheses brought forward by Kaizen activities. Whether a large change is being implemented in the facility or a minor change to a specific part in the manufacturing process, the change can be documented in the PDCA cycle. The steps are as follows:

  • Plan: Identify the issue and formulate potential causes and solutions to the problem.
  • Do: Implement the plan that was discussed in the previous step.
  • Check: Review the outcome and results from the ‘Do” step and verify whether or not the implemented plan had the intended effect.
  • Act: If the effect was a positive one, the change should be standardized in the workplace. If the outcome was a negative one, the potential causes and solutions should be revisited and reworked.

The PDCA cycle is continuous and provides an effective standard for implementing changes in the workplace.

Kaizen events: These are events scheduled for a set period of time, usually a week, where a process or a specific part of a process is to be improved. These events will need to be planned before executed and will begin with the identification of what problem or waste will be focused and addressed during the event. Employees should be trained on performing activities properly to ensure the event will be operating as efficiently as possible. Physical changes may need to be made in regard to the layout of the facility to reduce waste allow a better flow for the manufacturing process and standards should be set for all activities to be done the same way. An event team should then be chosen consisting of frontline workers and including multiple departments. The event itself will span anywhere from a few hours to a full week depending the event’s complexity. Once the event has been orchestrated, the team should gather data to review and decided whether or not the changes were successful for future improvements. 

Quality circles: Kaizen emphasizes the importance of involving employees from every level. Frontline workers and employees who work with certain processes every day are really the experts at it. These circles consist of people performing the same, or similar, job functions and are led by a supervisor. Quality control circles encourage continuous improvement and work through the PDCA cycle for their activities. Many different workplace and Kaizen events can benefit from the use of quality circles including the review of best practice, finding issues that need to be fixed, inspiring collaboration for solutions, fostering brainstorming between workers, and streamlining problem solving. 

Fishbone diagram: The fishbone diagram is a visual representation of the “Five Whys” strategy. Kaizen believes that to solve problems in the workplace, the root cause must first be identified. The tail of a fish represents the problem, with the bones leading down to the head as Why questions. After a problem has been identified, keep asking why until you reach the root of the problem. Using this technique will help to bypass solutions that do not address the problem, but rather fixing issues that would be fixed if the root problem was addressed first.

Kaizen, and the idea of continuous improvement, may seem like a tall order for a business and can seem like a daunting project to undertake. Fortunately, Kaizen and the Toyota Production system offer a variety of helpful tools to implement this strategy, streamline manufacturing processes, and reduce waste in the facility. There are several more than just the ones listed above, and each tool should be explored when implementing the Kaizen way of mind.

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