Change and improvement is an essential part of any organization, but the most innovative minds are moving in droves toward kaizen thinking.
Rather than massive overhauls every now and then, kaizen focuses on continuous improvement of systems and processes. It relies on collaboration as anybody in the company can make a suggestion, not just the people at the top.In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into a kaizen method definition with two of the foundational aspects — the Five-S Framework, and removing muda (waste) — before giving examples of how to improve business processes with kaizen on a more specific level.
You can’t answer the question “what is the kaizen method” without first understanding the Five-S Framework. Each “S” describes how you and your team can approach work to inspire small, kaizen-like changes that combine to make a big difference. The five concepts are:
Seiri (sort out)
Seiton (clean up)
Seiso (keep the workplace clean)
Seiketsu (make orders the rule)
You and your team should always be asking yourself “is this really necessary?” If the answer is no, get rid of it. It’s easy to picture this as physical items in a workshop, but it can just as easily be applied to processes such as the HR department approving holidays if the request falls within the agreed timeframe.
Now you’ve got rid of everything you don’t need, seiton encourages you to make everything easily accessible. Sure, this could mean putting your worktools at a perfect height to pick them up, but it could also mean storing all your business tools in one place. This way, rather than finding a different password for every process, you can access everything from one user-friendly base.
Seiso refers to the cleanliness of your workspace. Again, this is very easy to imagine in a physical job, but how would you apply it to computer-based work?
Firstly, you could apply the kaizen method to emails. Don’t send a convoluted email when clear instructions in a task management tool would suffice. Similarly, if you’re relying too much on instant messenger, you’ll have a seriously tough time finding one specific message in the future.
By standardizing your processes and best practices, you can repeat them over and over again without a drop in quality. This could stretch from document creation to implementing workflows so your sales team never drops the ball when speaking to your customers.
The kaizen method is ultimately useless if you don’t keep it going. It’s like making a few major breakthrough changes early in your business before remaining unchanged for the next decade. Therefore, shitsuke focuses on sustaining the following four points and creating a company culture that sees the process as second nature.
To understand how to improve business processes with kaizen, you also need to strategize how you remove waste. Sure, cutting down on excess is good for any business, but identifying the seven types of muda associated with the kaizen method helps to pinpoint your efforts and earn benefits that go way beyond just saving money.
The seven types of muda are:
Any excess production involves storage, inspection, and transport — and that’s not to mention the costs of creating the excess in the first place. Overproduction is often down to poor planning or even intentional surplus production to make up for potential faulty products. To shift your excess, your team will have to run discounts, meaning you could run close to a loss or worse.
By gathering data on customer trends and learning from each blip in production, you can start predicting more precisely how much you should be producing. What’s more, by making small adjustments to your assembly line or production process, you’ll plug the gaps that previously caused your planned overproduction.
We’re not saying you need to suck every second out of your workers to consider yourself a productive team — it’s no secret that such high-pressure tactics are counter-productive. However, poorly planned workflows that go unchecked can lead to unacceptable amounts of time spent waiting for the previous step to finish.
With the kaizen method, you can implement time trackers to measure how long each step takes and plan accordingly. Shave off even more wasted time by automating task assignments, for example new helpdesk tickets or leads in your CRM. If you find you as a manager are causing the delays, you could automate the approval process by receiving high-priority notifications that you can quickly react to and keep the value stream moving.
Although it can appear as a result of overproduction, transportation deserves its own area of muda. This refers to the needless steps, moving something backwards and forwards. As your entire team should embrace the kaizen methodology, listen especially to your shop-floor or front-line workers. They’re the ones who will know exactly where time and effort is wasted in motion.
In more computer-focused companies, you could see the same effect in an approval system. A manager, for example, should only see the final draft without giving their OK to every change made.
Overprocessing is the opposite of keeping it simple. Yes, it’s possible that a customer would appreciate a little something special, but if you’re going the extra mile for no reward… stop.
In terms of overprocessing, one idea for how to use kaizen methods is by keeping close tabs on what your customers are actually looking for. That way, you can meet their demand without going overboard, resulting in a cheaper product that hits the mark better than what your product manager may have created without extra insights.
You may have heard of the just-in-time production line, which is what removes excess inventory from the equation. Having an excess costs money to store, but items can also rot, whether it’s timber or strawberries.
By streamlining your production at a sustainable level, you can reduce the headache of excess inventory. Similarly, your issue could be sales stagnation. In that case, your market research team should be constantly looking for marginal gains to help shift stock quicker.
Rather than coinciding with transportation, movement refers to how much the actual workers have to move, rather than the product. Take an assembly line where your team has to go to a different store cupboard to find everything they need to do their job. By putting it all together in one handy place, you can save yourself whole heaps of time over the course of a year.
A great modern example of how to implement kaizen in your movement is keyboard shortcuts. If you’re still copy and pasting with a mouse, take heed! You can immediately speed that up with just the shift, alt, and directional keys. Similarly, when it comes to your software, keeping all your tools on one platform, rather than opening up new apps every few minutes, is going to be a life saver. Within your platform, you can also include shortcuts to your most-used functions to avoid wasting time on navigation.
When you get to the end of the line and find a defective product, all the costs involved have gone up in smoke. You might be able to make some modifications or salvage some parts, but at the end of the day, you’re spending time and money where it needn’t be spent.
The kaizen method encourages your team to see where improvements can be made from start to finish. It usually doesn’t take long to identify the weak link in a production line or in a business workflow, and finding an easy, cost-effective solution is often near at hand. So rather than your team shrugging their shoulders and saying “it’s always been this way”, a kaizen-focused team would add a review stage to the workflow, or streamline an error-prone process.
Now you’ve got to grips with your Five S Framework, which helps inform your decisions, and the seven types of muda, which you should always be looking to cut out, we’ll now look at some commonly used practical applications of how to use kaizen method.
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Part of making kaizen a part of your day-to-day is implementing it into your approach to work. With structured workflows, you can cut out the possibility of missing steps and ensure quality throughout your work. For this section, we’ll concentrate on flow kaizen — looking at the start-to-finish of a process, rather than an individual action. Think “customer journey”, not “phone call”.
You should create workflows that put kaizen methods at the heart of your value stream. Below, we’ve included an example of what a workflow could look like.
Your quality circle team should be varied, for example one working directly on the issue at hand, a specialist in the area, and someone with executive decision-making powers. They should meet regularly to brainstorm ideas for improvement.
Be specific: Let’s say the problem could be losing leads at the phone call stages. The outcome should increase leads moving through your sales funnel with the ultimate goal of securing more deals.
In our example, you could measure the percentage of leads passed to the next stage of the funnel. Other secondary KPIs would include calls per hour, time spent on calls, and customer feedback forms.
With your multidisciplinary team, your solutions should be wide and varied. Automating lead assignment or cutting out admin tasks could make sense to a middle manager, whereas calling through the computer rather than a physical phone may be a more obvious solution for the sales agent.
With A/B (and even C/D) testing, you can measure each change individually to get data-driven results and cut out the guesswork. Take things bit by bit to pinpoint exactly what is making the difference.
You’ve struck gold with new call center software — make sure your customer service department knows about it! Having identified and measured your success, you can make your new techniques your new best practice and boost other areas of your company along the way.
Remember there is no need to create a new workflow every time you approach a process. With the right project management tools, you can save a template and set it up in one click. How very seiketsu.
For the kaizen method to really take hold, you need an open-door policy where any employee can suggest any improvement at any time.
Gone are the days of company-wide meetings to find a transformative solution, only for the CEO to take sole initiative. With kaizen, each team member’s opinion will be valued, which is a motivation-booster in the short term and a retention strategy in the long term.
Even if you know how to use the kaizen method, it’s likely that not everyone on your team will, and introducing a new way of working can be a touchy subject.
However, with the right tools to structure what you want to achieve, it becomes a much more palatable prospect. For example, including task management, workflows, and analytics all in one place, you make understanding the effects of the kaizen simple and clear to everybody.
Bitrix24 gives you all this and more, so sign up for free today and learn how to implement kaizen methods in your company philosophy.