If there’s something 2020 has proven to us, is that different and new work routines can yield the same results as the “traditional” ways. In fact, truth be told, some even proved to be more efficient than we’d previously thought. For all the challenges the pandemic brought, remote work showed it’s possible to improve the work-life balance and avoid endless hours in traffic jams. It was a learning curve, that’s for sure, but who knows if it isn’t the way forward?
What we’re trying to say is that everything can be improved, even if you’re set on your ways. You don’t know until you try. Some companies already do this with Kaizen. It’s not a tool, it’s not a methodology – it’s a culture. In Japanese, “kaizen” means “change for the better”, which some companies interpret as a synonym for continuous improvement. It’s closely associated with lean manufacturing and lean maintenance, as well as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).
What is the Continuous Improvement Model?
Continuous improvement is essential under lean manufacturing models and TPM. Kaizen aims at finding processes that can become more efficient and more effective, usually in an organised and consistent manner.
Kaizen can be applied to anything, from management to the maintenance schedule of a specific piece of equipment, to logistics and even the supply chain. It also extends to everyone from operators to managers, a characteristic it shares with TPM. For lean manufacturing, or even lean maintenance, Kaizen takes another dimension. Improving or making activities more efficient implies eliminating waste.
⏳ About “Point Kaizen” or “Kaizen Blitz”
In this article, we’re focusing on System Kaizen. However, Kaizen can also be of use for single points and events. In the Toyota Production System, the staff is expected to reunite after a malfunction occurs. These unexpected failures may trigger a ‘Kaizen event’, or a ‘Kaizen burst’, to react and propose an improvement to solve the issue.
You can also use Kaizen for specific team goals, such as decreasing MTTR or improving stock management.
But, as we said, Kaizen is culture, not a tool. So what tools can you apply to reinforce this culture? There are four main tools to achieve continuous improvement, which we’ll see next.
Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA)
The PDCA cycle is one of the most popular tools to achieve continuous improvement. Originally designed as a quality control method, it can be used to establish new goals and processes (plan). Start small with a run-test (do). Then, compare the output/ results with your goals (check). If the new processes improve your performance, implement them (act). Of course, the trick with PDCA is setting measurable goals and tracking them accordingly.
- Take note: for single point Kaizen events, PDCA sometimes means Problem finding, Display, Clear, and Acknowledge.
Root Cause Analysis (RCA)
Root Cause Analysis is a set of tools to find out what triggered a failure. Organisations searching for continuous improvement seek RCAs to improve processes and prevent failures from happening again. In fact, this is a topic we’ve already covered extensively. You can see our overview of 5 RCA tools, how to perform an FMEA, how to apply an FTA, how FMEA compares to FTA, and what’s a 5 Whys Analysis. The latter and Fishbone Diagrams are often used on PDCA cycles.
Kanban is another lean tool. It means “signboard” or “billboard” in Japanese, and it’s a scheduling system for just-in-time manufacturing and lean processes. In essence, it’s a whiteboard to map every step of the process, divided between “requests”, “in progress” and “done”. Over time, this “visual workflow” has emerged as a way to promote improvement. Problems (such as interruptions or delays) are highlighted, so you can spot potential bottlenecks and act on them.
CMMS or equivalent software
This can’t come as a surprise. A CMMS or an equivalent intelligent software are incredible sources of data and insights into your operation. They will lend a hand not only to spot opportunities for change and improvement but also to track results. Of course, to keep it lean, you’ll want software that is user-friendly, easy to integrate with other tools, and able to generate reports and time-based work orders automatically.
What are the benefits of Kaizen?
It’s a fair question. When you’re taking on a lean approach, every change in the company culture needs to build up, instead of wasting time or human resources. However, if you’re already “all in” with TPM and lean maintenance, Kaizen is almost non-negotiable. Here’s a roundup of the changes you’ll notice when implementing the tools we’ve mentioned:
- improved product quality after successive PDCA cycles;
- minimising waste through continuous improvement of processes;
- shorter delivery times due to the elimination of production bottlenecks;
- increased safety, especially when RCA is applied in design processes;
- boost team morale, since workers feel more motivated and listened to;
- reduced costs and more effective management overall, as a consequence of all of the above.