Kaizen: Small Steps to Profit

Like Lean, the Kaizen approach embraces small, seemingly insignificant, changes to pave the way to greater profits. It’s the “little things really do make a difference” thinking, and it’s true. Kaizen is easy and effective; however, there are right ways and wrong ways to approach it.


You probably know that Kaizen is the Japanese term that rivals continuous improvement. Etymologically speaking, it translates to “change for the better.” It differs from Lean in its scope and timeline, and that difference is dramatic. The focus of Kaizen is daily improvements, implementing changes in days, hours or minutes rather than months or weeks. Its power comes from the number of changes implemented, and in the most successful Kaizen-embracing companies, everybody plays – from the CEO on down to every single worker.


The mindset is for everyone to show up for work each day and ask, “What can I change today to make an improvement?” And everyone has the power to eliminate non-value added tasks from their day. The incremental changes are small, so the risk is small as well. If something doesn’t work, it’s easy to revert back. The real power of Kaizen comes from the volume and frequency of improvements.


If you haven’t tried Kaizen, start with a five-day workshop. Identify a suspected area of waste and assign a multidisciplinary team to tackle it and eliminate non-value added steps. If you don’t think it can be accomplished in five days, narrow the scope. Kaizen is all about speed. Think small. Think fast.


Kaizen also must adhere to the “3 No Rule” – no extra space, no more people, no more money. It requires creativity and ingenuity at times, but it’s easy to apply the “3 No Rule” in waste elimination since you are typically subtracting in the first place.


There are a few other tried-and-true rules for Kaizen success:

  • No idea is stupid or silly, like Brainstorming 101.
  • There are no stars; every player is equal, regardless of titles.
  • Presume the status quo is wrong; there is always room for improvement.
  • Don’t embrace formalities and grand announcements; just do it.
  • Don’t focus on what won’t work.
  • Forget the conference room; try the ideas now on the shop floor.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect solution; a 50% improvement now is far better than a 100% improvement later.

 

If you can improve a cycle time from 22 minutes to 21 minutes, without investing in more space, people or money, you’re already ahead of the game. While that single minute doesn’t seem like much, it adds up. That single minute turns into 15 minutes saved per shift (a conservative estimate, allowing for typical downtime, etc.), 45 minutes per day, 225 minutes per week, and 11,700 minutes per year. Would you like an annual 200-hour savings? 200 hours right to the bottom line? Who wouldn’t?


Sure it’s small, but when all departments and workers begin taking the Kaizen approach, those small savings multiply… and multiply… and multiply. That’s the beauty of Kaizen – easy and effective.

At MPower, we understand and embrace the incredible power of small changes made consistently and quickly. We’ve experienced it ourselves and have built our foundation on helping other companies experience the same benefits. Contact us to learn the benefits of Kaizen and help you begin taking small steps toward much greater profitability.