To Blitz, Or Not To Blitz
First, let’s establish an agreement regarding some of the terminology we will be using in the following article. To begin with, for all intents and purposes, we need to agree that Kaizen and continuous improvement are essentially the same thing, and while the name originates from the Japanese language and it has many different meanings, we use continuous improvement as the term best suited for our discussion.
A well known and used module of the Kaizen philosophy is the Kaizen Blitz, also known as or practiced as a Kaizen Event. The Kaizen Event has become a very useful introductory tool in lean manufacturing and is used to bring the employees and leadership team of a facility or company onto a common ground – that of the Kaizen Event. Many companies, since its introduction into the manufacturing world, have incorporated it into their business culture very successfully with great results.
Where does the origin of Kaizen begin?
For all intents and purposes Kaizen originated and was developed, by two gentlemen from the Toyota company. Before the recent popularity of the Blitz or Kaizen Event, kaizen was practiced under the umbrella and intent of ‘Continuous Improvement’ which could best be described as the slow inception and deployment of many small and new developments within both the process and quality arena. Many of us today now see the results of those early efforts that, over the last 50 years, have helped to position the Toyota company as one of the lowest cost / highest quality automobile manufacturing companies in the world.
How does Kaizen actually function?
Most of us who are in any kind of industry know that overtly large, dramatic or quick changes in manufacturing is not feasible due to the many factors that both guide and throttle manufacturing or parties involved in any manufacturing venture. Even lean manufacturing, which makes it a practice of being flexible and not top heavy with inventory or unnecessary space or assets, finds it hard to move or change fast.
But that is exactly the enticing beauty of Kaizen and Continuous Improvement – that it is done in small, incremental steps that can be repeated and scaled. Both the mindset and the attitude of your workers as well as previous business processes will usually undergo a change that is permanent.
Imagine that you have a large, complicated task ahead of you or your team. It appears to be an impossible scenario with no good solution in sight. However, as is often the case, when it is broken down into small bite sized chunks, or steps, you begin to see it with a new perspective and you soon realize that you can actually manage it. It is this process that makes Kaizen a business philosophy that becomes a source of encouragement both for you as well as everyone else involved in the lean manufacturing process.
So just what is the Kaizen blitz?
As we clarified before the ‘Blitz’ is actually the same thing as a Kaizen Event. That is, it is a small, focused attack brought to bear on a particular aspect or area of your manufacturing operation in order to improve its performance either incrementally or wholly.
These Kaizen Events are very effective over time, since, as you improve each small isolated aspect, all of these singular elements begin to add up to huge overall improvements in your business. It is at this point in time that you begin to see why it is called ‘continuous improvement’; it is an ongoing process that has no end in sight. There will always be something about the business that can be improved.
Most of us have experienced at some point in our life a household or room that appeared extremely dysfunctional or disorderly. So too, in many similar ways, a kaizen event is held to help bring that disorganized household that you just can’t seem to tame, or get under control, brought into order.
It sometimes seems that being messy or disorderly is engrained in our DNA! For the most part, very few people seem to be able to get things under control or put back into order – assuming they were at one point in time. All efforts in the past have failed, so you wonder whether you will ever find a solution.
That is where Kaizen comes in, allowing you to avoid overwhelm by developing a strategy that incorporates many small, doable and incremental steps that are first mastered before moving on to the next step or item on the list. To be sure, part of the continuous improvement strategy is also to look back at where you have been and/or what has been previously established. Then, again in incremental steps, those elements of the business, whether it’s a process or something physical, can start to be changed.
Over time, most people if not everyone in the business, begins to see and believe in the new business culture. Within a short time, if practiced and adhered to, the business begins to become organized and tidy and positive habits are built. These new and positive habits now need to be acknowledged and supported by leadership.
Important: Like a lot of lean manufacturing processes, it is good common sense to make sure that tracking and monitoring are a part of the final implementation. This allows you to measure and ensure success as well as tracking failures (that you don’t want to repeat) and to put the actions taken and successes realized, into quantifiable data formats.
The last question – Is Kaizen continuous improvement worth it?
Ask yourself this question first – Is it worth it to be more efficient and profitable? I would hope that your answer is as soundly exclaimed as mine…Yes! Actually, it is a law of nature that things left to themselves tend to decay and fall apart. So does it not stand to reason that if you are not continuously improving on your business, or even yourself (!), that the same forces of deterioration and decay begin to gain the upper hand?
If that is indeed the case, then it does not require a genius to come to the conclusion that Kai-zen – Good Change – is also good for you and should at all costs be something practiced by every business in the business landscape.