Kaizen and Employee Involvement.

The three pillars of kaizen, standardization, 5S, and elimination of waste, are critical to achieving the goals. These activities are successful only if the foundation, employee involvement is robust. The employee involvement activities are teamwork, self-discipline, moral enhancement, improvement suggestions, and quality circles. From them, the last two provide information on how active employees are in continuous improvement activities.

Suggestion Programs to increase employee involvement

The purpose of this system is to motivate the employees to provide as many suggestions as possible.  One of the management’s responsibilities is to share with their teams the company goals. Another responsibility is to educate them on how their daily work connects to those goals.  If they accomplish those tasks, the team will understand how they can support those goals. Therefore, they will suggest things aligned with those objectives. 

The suggestion program should be easy to participate in, have clear rules and standards. Forms containing all the required information and acceptance criteria are an example. Also, other ways to facilitate participation are guidelines for prioritization and how to provide feedback. Other areas to cover with simple procedures are ways to motivate participation, decision-making, program promotion, and recognition.

Quality Circles

Quality circles are activities designed to address quality, safety, cost, and productivity issues. They are informal and formed by voluntary small-groups. You know your employees are engaged in continuous improvement when they suggest solutions. Another hint comes when they ask to meet with other teammates to work on an idea.

The idea can be part of the possible countermeasures of kaizen in progress. Another possibility is a simple checklist to minimize errors or to create visual marks to improve a process. Management support for these groups is vital. They can help to remove obstacles and facilitate resources and training. Also, they oversee what is going on to ensure meeting policies and critical criteria.

The temperature of employee involvement

These systems or activities are excellent ways to take the temperature of the continuous improvement effort.  The more participation, the more active and engage the employees are.  They are also excellent vehicles to boost the employee’s morale, which is another daily activity to ensure kaizen success.  It is very important to practice respect for the people, respect their ideas, and always provide feedback.  The main idea behind all these is to develop your people, to provide the environment to explore, learn, and change.

What are the Kaizen’s pillars?

kaizen pillars

Kaizen or continuous improvement is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  Kaizen’s pillars or major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.

Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.  For these reasons, standards are the basis for both maintenance and improvement

Misaaki Imai

5S is the first of the Kaizen’s pillars

Housekeeping and 5S are basic activities for any continuous improvement effort.  For instance, employees acquire self-discipline by practicing 5S daily.  Without discipline, it is impossible to sustain a continuous improvement culture.  Also, 5S helps to create a visual workplace.

In general, people feel uncomfortable when the problems are visible. Therefore, it is normal to hide or not uncover them to avoid undesired questions from the boss or dealing with them. However, you cannot fix what you cannot see. 5S and visual management make the out-of-standard situation easy to recognize. The objective is to see the problems and correct them as soon as possible.

Standardization is another kaizen’s major activity

When we fail to achieve the expected results, it is because the process fails.  Many times, it fails because there is no standard.  Each individual has a way to do things.  Standard work is the safest, highest quality, and most efficient way to execute a particular task.  Standardization is the practice of setting, communicating, following, and improving standards and standard work.  The best way to achieve consistent results and minimize mistakes is to follow the standard work.  

To improve the results, we have to improve the process.  But we need to have standards in place before we try to improve it.  That is why standardization is one of the earlier steps on the lean journey.  Visual management is a way to standardize. It helps to recognize defects, inventory, waiting times, and other types of waste.  Waste elimination is a cost-effective way to improve processes and reduce operating costs.

The first steps on the lean journey are to stabilize the process, create standards, and visual management.  Process stabilization is achieved by practicing 5S and waste identification.  Standards produce a clear image of the desired condition.  You cannot fix what you don’t see. By making conditions out of standard visible, 5S, standards, and waste elimination are the pillars of kaizen or continuous improvement.

What is Kaizen? What is a Kaizen Event?

continuous improvement or kaizen

Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions.  In my post, Take Baby Steps for Continuous Improvement, there is a little history of how Kaizen was born.  Continuous improvement involves everyone in the organization, improving processes everywhere, every day.   

The goal of kaizen or continuous improvement

The goal of lean is to deliver to the customer the highest quality, at the shortest lead time, at the lowest possible cost. Hence, kaizen’s focus is quality, cost, and delivery.  For that reason, its major activities are 5S, standardization, and waste elimination.  Daily execution of these three activities drives incremental improvement that brings dramatic results over time.

Daily and events

CI every day is important to tackle small problems before they become big ones.  The inspiration comes from observation of frequent deviations from the standard, or ideas to improve the process.  However, sometimes we have challenges that require a more methodical approach.  When that happens, an event is more convenient.  Recurrent problems that affect productivity or KPI performance are good candidates for an event.  

A CI or Kaizen event is focused on one problem or improvement idea at a time.  The goal is to accomplish dramatic improvements in a 2-7 days period.  These are rapid events, short, and based on common-sense solutions with very low or no-cost at all.  The understanding of the problem and kaizen planning is critical for success.  It is also important to standardize the way of performing kaizen, everybody should follow the same steps and document the execution of those steps in the same way.  A good method to ensure the problem-solving activity is standardize is using PDCA.

When it is done correctly, kaizen not only improve quality, cost, and delivery.  It also helps the heart of the lean system, the people.  It does so by eliminating safety hazards, simplifying processes, and teaching people how to identify opportunities, and improve their processes.  In my next post, I will discuss the general steps to perform a kaizen event.