CI 101, CI Tools

What are the three pillars of Kaizen?

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

Housekeeping and 5S are basic activities for any continuous improvement effort.  Employees acquire self-discipline by practicing 5S daily.  Without discipline, it is impossible to sustain a continuous improvement culture.  The 5S purpose is to create a visual workplace.  The objective is to make problems visible, which is quite uncomfortable.  It is normal to try to hide problems to avoid undesired questions from the boss or dealing with them.  5S and visual management make the out-of-standard situation easy to recognize, and employees can easily correct it.

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.

CI 101

How can you create changes in your business?

Often business owners see something that tells them that something different needs to be done. Perhaps it is a recurring problem or realizes that the business is not reaching financial goals. What is the solution? You need to identify what areas need change and prioritize. How can you create changes? There are two major ways to create change: innovation and continuous improvement.

More often than not, innovation is a high-cost solution. While it is necessary to keep yourself ahead of the game, I like to start somewhere else. My first stop in creating improvements is to use common sense, low-cost solutions.

What are common-sense solutions? It is to approach a problem using good judgment. For example, let’s use one of my favorite low-cost tools: housekeeping and organization. Will you agree that keeping a clean and organized workplace is common-sense? Why do you think it is? Perhaps because you know some of the following facts:

  • Clutter and disorganization are against productivity, reduces the ability to concentrate.
  • A messy workplace causes anxiety, stress, and has the potential to foster a negative state of mind, like feeling overwhelmed.

Your good judgment tells you that an efficient workplace is cleaned and organized. A lack of cleaning and organization is a visual indicator of inefficiency. You know that this condition has to change.

To improve housekeeping, you can buy a fancy computerized program or use a simple low-cost solution. Your new high-cost application will help you to create checklists, assign responsibilities and follow up on the cleaning activities. But it will not help you to ensure the workplace is clean and organized.

An alternative is to use 5S, a housekeeping and organization program. This program along with waste elimination and standardization are the basics of practicing continuous improvement. CI is about creating small changes using common-sense solutions that are easy to implement and follow. When you add up all those changes you will see a huge improvement in the overall performance of your business.