The Kaizen Approach (Part 3)

Lean Production

“The Constant Pursuit of Perfection”

PART 3: Continuous Improvement

In Part 2 of my Kaizen Approach series, I discussed the idea of developing the structures to of constant improvement, and the strategy for developing “Quality Control” groups within the current workforce, in order to create, cultivate, and nurture constant improvement throughout the organization. In Part 3, I will delve deeper into the idea of constant improvement, and “Lean Production.”

Kaizen, or “Continuous Improvement” is the idea that by making incremental increases quality over time, a company can take large improvements toward success and improved profitability. The attitude that Status Quo is not okay and things must improve constantly. Status Quo is good for a while, but the standard for quality and success is constantly changing.

A three part process can help develop and manage the idea of continuous development:

1) Step 1 – Identify Targeted Improvements

2) Step 2 – Plan and Develop Roadmap to Stimulate Change

3) Step 3 – Execute and capitalize on increased efficiencies or capabilities

Step 1, mentioned above, includes much of what I discussed in Part 1 of my Kaizen Approach, which is to garner the support of management and employees, development of “Quality Circles” or teams, and the gathering of ideas and areas of improvement. An integral and often the most beneficial part for small and growing companies is the analysis and development of standard procedures, processes, and core competencies that are currently taking place. This often includes an introspective view of the company to get to know the companies strengths and weaknesses and to look at the processes that have often grown organically. Learning to document and analyze processes and look for internal metrics to set a baseline for improvement can lead to identification of areas of improvement for both individuals, departments, and throughout the organization.

Step 2, often the most challenging, is the “where do we go from here”? The company has analyzed, strategized, and identified key areas of improvement. It must now take those areas of improvement and develop a plan to eliminate and change the patterns that are hindering performance and quality. This often includes picking off the low hanging fruit, the easiest improvements to make that can often have a big effect, and can begin the pattern that improves excellence and develops that positive pattern of behavior. In manufacturing this is termed “Lean” improvement, cutting the fat, eliminated duplication, wasted efforts, and things that do not add value to the company. But the idea of lean improvement can be applied to all business. There are always wasted efforts, duplicated work, recreating the wheel because the process has not been documented or training has not been implemented, completed, or it has and is not thorough. This step also includes refining the current processes, testing the metrics, and setting methods for improvement.

Step 3 is execution and capitalizing on the improvement. This process will often see the costs rise and profits decreased as new things are implemented, but the change will lead to improvements and improved profitability in the long run. The transformation is implanted through job training, skill enhancement and other improvements that lead to sustainable improvements. New processes are established and changes in behavioral patterns are developed to promote growth.

Once all three steps have been completed the processes starts over and is repeated, and new improvements are developed and efficiencies improved — a constant flow of improvement, rework, modification, and analysis. As mentioned these improvements can be small, but a series of small improvements can have a large effect. I will outline more on this in the final part of this series.

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