Nowadays, anyone can start a business. Growing your business and reaching peak performance is the hardest part. You and your team have to continuously improve your skills, learn new things and improve your knowledge. No matter how good you are at what you do, there's always room for improvement. That's where the Kaizen philosophy comes in. Also known as the Continuous Improvement Process, this concept encompasses a series of practices that aim to increase work performance and productivity. It can be applied to all areas of life, not just in business.
What Is Continuous Improvement?
The continuous improvement process is based on Kaizen, a Japanese philosophy according to which small positive changes can yield big results. This word means "_change for better."_ In business, it refers to the activities and practices that may improve an organization's performance and operations. The Kaizen mindset is also used in life coaching, psychotherapy, education and other areas.
Organizations have been trying to improve their processes for decades. In the '80s, Japanese companies tried to implement traditional management techniques in more effective ways than Western companies did. Their international success is living proof that Kaizen works and that it can produce significant improvements in all areas of business. This is how this methodology was born.
Companies worldwide use Kaizen to streamline their operations, identify opportunities and reduce waste. Some implement it as an informal set of guidelines, while others see it as a formal practice. Continuous improvement is often used in conjunction with other methodologies, such as Scrum, Lean, Six Sigma and Kanban.
Depending on your company's needs, you can apply this concept in one or more areas of work. Some businesses view it as a way to create and sustain a culture of continuous improvement in research, customer service, product development, management and more. Others use Kaizen to encourage teamwork and foster a dynamic working environment.
This philosophy can help your business thrive and get more done in less time. Expect to work better and faster, deliver higher quality products and reduce costs across a wide range of goods, services and systems. Think of Kaizen as a gradual, never-ending process that can increase your company's performance and effectiveness so it can achieve its goals.
If you do a quick online search for "kaizen principles and practices pdf," "kaizen," "continuous improvement principles" and other similar terms, you'll get thousands of results. This concept has been subject to numerous studies, and many books have been written about it. "Creating a Kaizen Culture, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success" and "Toyota Kaizen Methods" are just a couple to mention.
The Kaizen Process Improvement Principles
Kaizen is both a philosophy of life and a scientific method that uses organizational beliefs and values along with statistical quality control to improve work processes. There are several Kaizen process improvement principles, which vary depending on the source. According to some experts, these include feedback, efficiency and evolution; the first one being the driving force behind the other two.
Other experts say that there are five, six or even 10 process improvement principles. However, they all share similarities and have the same goal: to continuously improve a company's work processes, services, products and other key areas. Let's take a closer look at the most popular Kaizen principles and how to implement them in your organization.
Never Stop Improving
The improvement process is ongoing and never ends. By gradually making small changes to boost your workflow and productivity, you'll mitigate risks and achieve more in the long run.
Breakthrough improvements require more changes and therefore, involve higher costs and greater risks. They also tend to be more time-consuming. Gradual, continuous improvements, by contrast, allow you to constantly enhance your practices and achieve more efficient and accurate results.
Toyota, for example, used this strategy to establish itself as an industry leader. Rather than undertake large projects, its employees were encouraged to identify the smallest issues, pinpoint their underlying causes and take the steps needed to fix them.
According to this philosophy, focusing too much on processes and the way of doing things can stall creativity and innovation. Managers and their teams should instead focus on improving. This can be done by identifying opportunities or problems, analyzing the process and developing an action plan.
Next, it's necessary to implement that plan or solution, track the results and adjust your efforts accordingly. If everything goes well, standardize that solution and implement it across the organization, its processes and relevant areas.
Many business owners are still stuck in the old mentality "that’s how we’ve always done it." They believe that as long as something works, there's no need to change it in any way – this stalls innovation and improvement. As a leader, it's important that you challenge the status quo every day.
Let's say your employees have been using the same inventory management software for years. Do you keep telling yourself that since these programs worked well for so long, why would you spend extra on the latest software? After all, your employees are getting paid for their time and efforts.
The truth is, your staff may be able to do more in less time, achieve better results and avoid costly mistakes by switching to a modern inventory management program. They'll work more efficiently and with greater accuracy, feel less stressed and keep up with the ever-changing trends in the industry. They will no longer have to write daily reports and send emails back and forth, check for errors manually and spend hours fixing any issues that may arise.
Remember, the main purpose of continuous improvement is to identify, reduce and eliminate suboptimal processes. This includes how your employees work and manage their day-to-day tasks.
People, Your Most Valuable Asset
The continuous improvement process revolves around teamwork activities. It emphasizes the fact that employees are a company's most valuable asset and that their ideas are valuable. Motivated employees take pride in their work, strive to do their best and have satisfaction in their accomplishments.
In a 2015 survey, 17 percent of U.S. workers said that they were actively disengaged. More than half reported being not engaged. Just 32 percent of respondents were engaged in the workplace.
Engaged employees are more likely to innovate and try out new processes. They also tend to stay longer with a company and work more efficiently. The Kaizen method gets people actively engaged and stimulates their creativity, which can improve your organization's bottom line.
Measure the Results
With an evaluation system in place, it's hard to tell how good a process is. It's not enough to make small changes and focus on improvement. You also need to measure the results of your efforts and adjust your operations accordingly.
Use data to determine what works and what doesn't work. If your efforts were successful, implement them on a wider scale and continue to track the results. The moment something stops working as it should, you must start all over. Identify the root cause of the problem, brainstorm and implement solutions on a small scale and then assess the performance and effectiveness of each process.
Continuous improvement works best in organizations with long-term goals. Empower everyone to take part in this process, from management to HR and sales departments. Encourage your employees to share their ideas and suggest changes. Let go of perfectionism and continue to seek areas that can be improved.
Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.