Lean manufacturing is a methodology that focuses on project management and process improvement. It helps manufacturers create initiatives that increase profitability by improving business processes. You can use lean production principles to make incremental improvements or radical changes—all while working with team members to reduce waste and optimize your workflow.
The key to successful lean production is kaizen, the Japanese word for "continuous improvement." But what is kaizen, and how can it benefit your facility's workflows? In this article, we’ll discuss the kaizen philosophy as well as its drawbacks and benefits.
What Does “Kaizen” Mean?
As mentioned above, kaizen is a Japanese word that loosely translates to “continuous improvement” in English. But kaizen is much more than just a word—it's a philosophy and ongoing framework for improving operational processes and business practices. Kaizen ties directly into lean manufacturing principles of reducing waste and optimizing factory efficiency.
The core principles of kaizen state that businesses can improve every process, and continually working to improve those processes is essential to remaining competitive and profitable. The kaizen philosophy also establishes that errors are the result of poor processes—not people—and that everyone in the system plays a role in improving those processes. It’s a mindset that, once established, creates a forward-thinking environment and workplace where team members feel greater ownership over their roles.
Defining the 4 Types of Kaizen Methodologies
While kaizen is an example of lean manufacturing, there are four distinct types of kaizen methodologies that you can implement in your workplace, which we'll cover in detail below.
1) Kaizen Teian
Kaizen teian is a process that focuses on improvement from the bottom up. It begins with a cultural transformation in the workplace—ensuring that everyone in your organization is on board with the changes you plan to implement. It focuses on the people in your organization and actively involves them in the improvement process. This way, everyone has the opportunity to propose changes that improve the workflow and create a better workplace environment.
2) Kaizen Events
Rather than daily continuous improvement, kaizen events focus on a specific process development over a short period of time. These projects typically are brief and have a specific end goal in mind. These short events have targets in place to overcome identified challenges and create more efficiency and better performance in that area.
Kaikaku is a kaizen methodology that focuses on radical change. Rather than making small changes that add up to major process improvements, kaikaku is a radical process transformation that dramatically changes how you previously did business. This can include moving to automated processes rather than manual processes or implementing a new system or technology to help manage them.
The final kaizen methodology is kakushin, which refers to a major change or breakthrough innovation. This process means that a major change will take place in the workplace, such as changing the organization's direction altogether or creating a process that demands completely new skill sets from your workforce. This is a major cultural change that will require your whole team to commit to a new way of doing business.
What Is the Goal of a Kaizen Project?
Ultimately, the goal of any kaizen project is to improve a process—whether it's a plant-wide improvement or affecting only one small area within your facility.
Kaizen projects can accomplish anything from small shifts in your daily operations to drastic changes to your organization's functions. But regardless of the scope of the kaizen project, the end goal is the same: to create processes that are more efficient, optimized and forward-thinking, which requires mutual respect, accountability, and effort from all team members.
Pros and Cons of Kaizen Projects
Kaizen is a strong business methodology used by businesses across the globe due to its potential to streamline business practices and increase profitability. However, there are a few potential drawbacks to a kaizen project as well, which are important to consider as you move forward. Below, we highlight the pros and cons of using the kaizen framework so you can make informed decisions on your workplace projects.
Pros of Kaizen
- Strengthens teamwork and internal cooperation
- Improves leadership and managerial skills
- Builds better systems for efficiency in your workplace
- Increases levels of employee satisfaction with better communication and safety practices
Cons of Kaizen
- Difficult to change entire systems and requires new methods of doing business
- Disruptive to production system processes and traditional ways of running manufacturing
- Requires additional training for employees, which can slow the workflow (at least temporarily as things get underway)
How To Implement Kaizen in Your Workflows
As you start to explore lean manufacturing with resources and materials, you will notice that kaizen continually appears as one of the most important principles to establish in your workplace. However, it’s important to remember that kaizen is a process, not an overnight triumph. Even a kaizen event (which takes place over a short period of time), requires plenty of strategic planning in order to ensure the greatest chances of success.
To begin implementing the kaizen process, you need to bring in your stakeholders and key decision-makers. Explain the scope of the process, your goals, and what challenges and issues you hope to overcome with the kaizen methodology. Once you have buy-in and support from your stakeholders, you can start to put together your action plan to roll out the initiatives you have planned.
Once you have a clear and concise action plan, you can bring in the rest of your team, including team leaders, executives and your workforce, to ensure that the entire organization is on the same page. Then you can go through your objectives and create processes that will keep the kaizen principles strong when you roll out other new processes.
After your plan is in motion, it’s important to follow up on your initiatives and continue training your workforce and new employees. This will help maintain your changes and business practices in the future while keeping your focus on the heart of kaizen methodology: continuous improvement.
Define Your Kaizen Projects With Amper
Kaizen is a philosophy that helps you identify the root cause of issues and create an improvement project for standard work and business processes. Once you have a kaizen action plan, it’s important to create a follow-up system that allows you to maintain the new practices you established.
At Amper, we help businesses achieve their lean goals with our machine monitoring and analytics capabilities. Amper's digital tools give you greater insights into your equipment's performance and root causes for downtime to help you identify areas for improvement. Learn how machine monitoring can help optimize your shop floor.