Continuous improvement (CI) or Kaizen is the daily practice of creating small changes using low-cost common-sense solutions. To stay true to the CI spirit and be able to accomplish the goal of delivering customers high-quality value, on-time, and at the lowest possible cost, it is necessary to follow these basic rules.
- Create improvements with small daily changes.
- The team is the source for most of the improvement ideas.
- Incremental improvements are typically cost-effective.
- Employees take ownership of the daily improvement process.
- Constant feedback and reflection.
By definition, if you are following a continuous improvement program, everybody is pursuing perfection through small changes daily. Every day, everybody should be looking for at least one thing to improve or a problem to solve. CI is part of everybody’s job, and every day people should be finding a way to correct what is wrong, or make a job easier, or eliminate some waste. These tasks require walking the place where value is created or gemba looking for whatever does not add value to the customer. Your objective is to make the process flow, and for that, you need to know your customer needs.
In a continuous improvement environment, management no longer practices command and control. Leadership does not generate all the ideas anymore. Now they empower their team by involving employees to share their concerns and suggestions and become part of the problem-solving process. Employees work daily with the company processes and know them better than anybody. For that reason, their feedback is valuable, should be seen as gold.
Because they know the processes so well, employees’ ideas are simple and effective solutions. They are looking to simplify a process, eliminate or combine steps, or change the order, not in terms of adding things. Leadership and engineers many times complicate things, thinking in high-cost technology solutions that require capital expense.
One of the biggest challenges for a supervisor is to make people change the way they do things. Breaking with “that is the way we always have done it” is easier when the idea is coming from them. As a result of involving the team in the daily problem-solving process, they will trust their skills and knowledge more and more. Soon the team will take ownership of the daily improving process.
Continuous improvement needs a strong, transparent, and effective communication system. Communication needs to be clear, honest, consistent, and collaborative. Open communication that flows both ways, providing constant feedback and reflection. CI happens within a learning environment where feedback on how things are going and reflecting on the results are as important as clear instructions and expectations.
Follow the continuous improvement basic rules every day, and never stop improving!