Kaizen, meaning “change for the better”, is a Japanese business philosophy focused on the gradual and methodical improvement of productivity, processes, and products and services, by identifying opportunities to streamline work and reduce waste.
Kaizen was first practiced in Japan following World War II to support lean manufacturing, focused on the elimination of waste and redundancies. Many manufacturers including popular auto manufacturer Toyota Motors have used this managerial approach and production system.
Over the last century Kaizen, often referred to in the West as continuous, or continual, improvement, has spread throughout the world as a method of seeking incremental improvement in many different environments - particularly in business. This method can yield incremental improvements over time, but can also result in instances of “breakthrough” improvement.
Continuous improvement is more than just a method for streamlining work; the approach also comes with a change in mindset. Ideally this “continuous improvement mindset” affects everyone from CEOs down to frontline workers, constantly improving not just operations, but people.
Continuous improvement using the classic Kaizen method is based on these principles:
- Feedback: Reflection on processes is the core principle of continuous improvement.
- Efficiency: The identification, reduction, and elimination of suboptimal processes is the purpose of continuous improvement.
- Evolution: The focus on incremental, continual steps rather than giant leaps is the emphasis of continuous improvement.
Getting Better All the Time
W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer in the field, viewed continuous improvement as a system where consistent feedback from processes, employees, and customers is evaluated against the company’s goals. This helps management make more informed decisions about how to design and implement the delivery process.
Like the scientific method, this process helps businesses to formulate hypotheses about changes that need to be made, and allows them to test the hypotheses on a small scale. After gathering feedback from testing, businesses evaluate the change, associated processes, and testing method to make adjustments. Eventually, once calibrated to yield the desired results, improvements can be implemented on a large scale as company-wide procedures.
There are various models for continuous improvement. One of the most widely used is the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle popularized by Deming. The cycle is a quality assurance method consisting of four key steps:
- Plan: Plan for change by identifying processes required to deliver the desired results.
- Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
- Check: Use data to analyze the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
- Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.
Other widely used methods of continuous improvement include Six Sigma, Lean Thinking, and Total Quality Management. Like PDCA, all of these methods heavily emphasize employee involvement and work to measure and standardize processes for consistent productivity and workflow.
Want to know more about the benefits of continuous improvement and how to start implementing the PDCA model in your workplace? Read on to find out more!
How Does Continuous Improvement Benefit the Workplace?
The continuous improvement method and mentality complements most management systems, such as business process management, quality management, program management, and project management.
By utilizing continuous improvement in your organization, you invite a whole host of benefits that give your business a competitive edge. Just take a look at all the benefits your company can reap from continuous improvement:
- Increased Employee Engagement and Retention
Continuous improvement is a company-wide mentality that makes employees agents of change by empowering them with a method to propose and solve problems themselves rather than waiting in frustration for leadership to do so. The average impact of a cost saving idea proposed by an employee is $31,043 in its first year of implementation, and it increases job satisfaction and engagement.
Engaged employees who are satisfied with their jobs are much less likely to leave the company. This means that your company can increase its ability to retain talent. A study by Towers Perrin in 2009 showed that companies with highly engaged employees earned 19.2% more operating income than their baseline peers.
- Improved Customer Satisfaction
Continuous improvement gives you the framework you need to evaluate customer problems and better adapt to their needs. By utilizing the continuous improvement process to evaluate and solve these problems, you gain valuable insight into the customer experience, as well as their needs and desires. Fifty-four percent of all improvements increase staff and customer satisfaction.
- Increased Employee Productivity
Continuous improvement helps you streamline your business processes by eliminating redundancies and standardizing procedures. This allows your workforce to work more efficiently and productively.
- Reduced Siloing and a Culture of Learning
A culture of continuous improvement is a culture of continuous learning. The process of continuous improvement supports employees taking the initiative to solve and test problems, forcing them often to think outside of the box and gain valuable knowledge along the way. Knowledge sharing is critical with continuous improvement in order to scale best practices across the organization.
- Better Quality Products and Services
Thanks to greater overall operational efficiency and reduced waste, products and services can be provided with a higher standard of quality which in turn boosts market value and profits. Fifty-four percent of all improvements have a direct impact on the quality of products and services.
- Greater Focus on Innovation and Agility
A culture of continuous improvement allows your business to consistently identify and implement best practices. This is essential to remain competitive during times of constant change. Continuous improvement encourages greater agility and innovation and helps your company be more adaptable to future changes.
- Increased Safety in the Workplace
A mentality of continuous improvement means employees and managers keep a keener eye on detail, including organization and safety procedures. By always improving on safety and promoting best practice, continuous improvement makes the workplace a safer place to work. Thirteen percent of all improvements increase the safety of staff and customers.
- Greater Insight into Strategy
Because continuous improvement involves the entire workforce, all employees will have a greater understanding of your company’s objectives and overall strategy. Employees will work towards core values firsthand. This in turn can have a positive impact on engagement and employee satisfaction.
Roughly 1 in 4 improvements are time saving. Thanks to greater efficiency, higher productivity, and reduced redundancies and waste, products can reach the market faster -- giving you a competitive edge over your competition. The average impact of a time-saving improvement is 270 hours in its first year of implementation.
As you improve your processes and procedures overtime, the quality of your product or service will rise and the error rate will decrease. This will boost your brand value and sharpen your competitive edge.
Plan - Do - Check - Act
To start implementing the PDCA model in your business and begin fostering a culture of continuous improvement, follow the detailed steps below.
Plan: Identify the Problem
The planning phase is the first of the PDCA continuous improvement model. When planning, you need to determine your goals, what problems are impeding those goals, and hypothesize solutions that will remedy them. This phase consists of multiple steps:
Identify the Problem
The first step of the planning phase is to evaluate your goals and determine what problems may be impeding your business from achieving them. Make sure you focus your efforts on the right problem.
Analyze the Problem
Collect data and ensure you understand the root cause of the problem. It's important to make sure you have a firm understanding of who the problem affects and the potential impact of solving it. Bring in subject matter experts who can help you get a better understanding of the problem. After a thorough analysis, determine if developing a solution will be feasible, economical, and practical. If it’s not, then return to the planning phase.
Design an Experiment
The final step of the planning phase is to design a viable solution for the problem you’re taking on. The solution needs to be measurable, so it’s important to determine how results will be measured and choose appropriate tools and metrics to use. You will also need to determine what resources you will need to carry out the experiment. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your aim - what does a successful outcome look like? Lastly, consider how the experiment may translate into a larger-scale environment.
As is the case with intangible assets, keep in mind that not all continuous improvements are easily measured, but it's still important to develop metrics for them.
Do: Implement the Change
The second phase of the PDCA model is to implement change on a small scale to gauge the effectiveness. Conducting a small scale test in a controlled environment ensures that you can test the results without risking widespread repercussions if the change does not yield the desired results. It also allows you to learn quickly and adjust as you go without requiring a large amount of resources.
Check: Measure the Results
The third phase of the PDCA model is to measure the results of the change. Use the predetermined instrument(s) to evaluate the results by comparing the data to the data gathered in the initial planning phase for a before and after comparison. Has the experiment yielded results that demonstrate a significant improvement? Determine by what percentage results are better, safer, easier, faster, cheaper, etc. If the results are not satisfactory, note what didn’t work, why, and how the experiment can be altered, or, return to the planning phase.
Act: Implement and Assess
The final phase of the PDCA model is to implement and assess the experiment on a wider scale. Determine what resources are needed to implement the solution on a larger scale, as well as other requirements like training. During this phase, it's imperative to continuously monitor and measure the impact as you go. After a successful implementation, standardize the processes and implement the changes company-wide. Make sure to assess what you learned from this implementation and consider how it can be leveraged for other potential solutions.
Help Drive Continuous Improvement with Insightful
For any modern team, employer computer monitoring tools or screen monitoring software is essential to provide the flexibility needed to function in today’s constantly shifting economic environment. Popular tools like computer monitoring software or BI dashboards can be easily leveraged to help facilitate continuous improvement in your organization.
Technology and continuous improvement go hand-in-hand, and many tools are available to provide support throughout all PDCA phases. By providing valuable insights, computer use tracking software can provide transparency and visualization that help with the identification, implementation, and assessment of continuous improvement hypotheses.
Workforce analytics & productivity software like Insightful can prove to be especially valuable in supporting continuous improvement, particularly when metrics are required for improvements connected to intangible assets. Insightful has beneficial features similar to software to track computer activity, but with a more comprehensive overview of trends within your workforce.
How can Insightful support continuous improvement?
- Work in a more informed way with actionable work data insights.
- Improve workflows, create more efficient processes, and foster productivity.
- Understand what enables your team to do great work – in the office, remote or hybrid.
- Drive bottom-up improvement through coaching and investing in your people
- Identify and remove bottlenecks to optimize workflows.
Insightful’s workforce analytics & productivity software is a step up from standard computer tracker software. It helps you to unlock operational efficiency through the power of work data. Insightful helps your business get a little bit better, all the time.