Implement Kaizen Continuous Improvement in 5 Steps or Less
Kaizen, the Japanese term underlying the concept of “continuous improvement,” continues to dominate work flow theory and the training that improvement professionals receive when they look for ways to bring their charges ‘to the next level’. Of course, the traditional tools and teachings of Kaizen are time-proven and ultimately brilliant in their own right, but there are undoubtedly other factors that can influence the effectiveness of Kaizen.
Today, I want to focus on five contextual factors that a workplace manager or Lean/Six Sigma professional can do to help improve the way they, well, improve! Contextual Kaizen involves bettering one’s self and one’s work environment to be better equipped to implement Kaizen in the first place. Some of these will pertain to very specific tasks or skills, while others are more about training your mind to view problems and improvement opportunities in a certain way. As with just about any piece of advice, these tips will work better when customized to your own operations, and some of them will be better suited for your business than others. Without further adieu, let’s jump right in!
Top 5 Tips to Make Kaizen Work for You
1. Don’t Do It All The Time, Just… Don’t
Confused yet? I’m actually talking about Kaizen itself, because one of the best ways to shut yourself off to new ideas, to get overwhelmed, or to get stuck into a solution or category of solutions that just isn’t working is to tunnel vision yourself into one pursuit. Creative industry professionals know that the best ideas usually don’t come from sitting at a desk thinking about the idea itself, they come from stimulating the brain in other ways.
While training and learning about Kaizen in a traditional sense are important, challenge yourself to completely get out of the house/office and dedicate some “outside time” to your improvement efforts. The hardest part about this tip is that many people will disregard it as counter-intuitive, if you’ve got an issue that needs tackled, how is ignoring it going to help? And, really, I’m not telling you to ignore it, but to just try and draw inspiration from other things and places. Remember, the very first time a great idea was implemented, it had to be thought up. Sure, there were influences from previous iterations, but something truly innovative can’t be simply picked out of a book or online course. Find your golden acorn out in the open world.
2. Teach Others
When it does come down to the booksmarts, one of the absolute best ways you can crystallize LSS teachings in your own mind is by teaching them to others. For example, when I was in college I tutored a student who was struggling in our basic calculus class. When he started doing better on his tests, I wasn’t all that surprised, but then something even more interesting happened: I improved too. I went from A’s and B’s to straight A’s (and several 100% grades) for the rest of the semester!
Teaching others the skills you learn forces you to fully understand them. You can’t just breeze over things and think “yeah, yeah, I get it,” you have to really know what you’re talking about if you’re going to explain the ins and outs of it to others. In Kaizen, a great way to do this is to workshop with your employees and go through various hypothetical (or real) improvement scenarios. By doing this, you’re likely to not only improve your own knowledge but also help get people on board with your improvement efforts as they’ll better understand both the means and objectives.
3. Find Other People’s Stuff That You Love, Document It
Not every single idea is going to be a game changer, but marginal improvements can be made in many aspects of your business just by simply observing what others are doing. This could be your direct competition, or companies in completely unrelated industries that are doing something you like.
When you’re at the store and come across packaging that catches your eye, slogan ideas that stick in your head, or see employees in another warehouse doing something that you think would work well in your own, document it. Take pictures and notes using some combination of a notepad/phone/camera as your current situation allows, then take these ideas back to the office and see if any of them could work for you.
4. Become A Entertaining Presenter
No really, become the Tony Robbins of the boardroom; get people pumped about your ideas! Continuous improvement means continuous change, and change can be intimidating. While I’ve done plenty of articles on compliance amongst improvement efforts, a stand out factor is “selling” people on what you want them to do. While step number 2 (Teaching Others) is one way to do this, you probably won’t have time to teach everyone everything, after all, they do have other jobs to do!
Instead, take public speaking and even art classes, and learn to draw and illustrate your ideas effectively while talking about them at the same time. Continuity of ideas and confidence both inspire people to follow you, and these small things you can teach yourself will help you to exude both of those.
5. Improve Yourself First
You’ve probably noticed that many of these ideas ties into “self-improvement,” and that’s for good reason. One of the hallmarks of a true Kaizen expert is that they’re always evolving and keeping up with the latest trends and knowledge. In order to stay relevant and knowledgable, try your best to make a conscious effort to always improve yourself, much in the same way you want to improve a company.
Read daily blogs, subscribe to useful twitter feeds, join groups on LinkedIn that discuss continuous improvement strategies regularly, etc. Then go old school and buy books (such as this one), CDs, tapes (wait, do those even still exist?), and whatever else you can get your hands on.
When it comes to Kaizen, don’t feel selfish putting yourself first – your ideas, and thus your workforce, bottom line, etc., will benefit from it greatly.