When we think of the word ‘improvement’, we probably all think of different things.
For a shopaholic fashionista, the word ‘improvement’ may immediately make her daydream of shopping at luxury department store on a quest to improve her wardrobe. Meanwhile, a quiet elderly man may hear the word ‘improvement’ and flashback to his younger years wishing that he could improve his aching body parts and return to the prime of his youth.
Improvement brings about many thoughts of HOW we can all be better.
In the manufacturing industry, improvement is so important that it even has its own term that manufacturing companies refer to often. When manufacturers think of ways to improve, the Kaizen process comes up very often.
What is Kaizen and why is it important?
Improvement may be a main objective for many other industries however in manufacturing, the Kaizen process was created to constantly improve the process and the overall work flow. The Kaizen process was started by Dr. W. Edwards Deming who was essential in rebuilding after World War II. Since the word Kaizen in Japanese means “betterment and improvement”, after the Kaizen process was seen by engineers as a vital way of improving manufacturing, Kaizen was then used after the war in Japan with Dr. Deming’s help. His goal was to give several businesses an opportunity to improve their own production practices through the principles of Kaizen. In fact, small improvements in various work environments were then brought to the United States under a special training program. The entire Kaizen process was brought in little by little due to World War II.
Instructors Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman also were important in the history of the Kaizen process becoming a major part of manufacturing. Not only did they recommended Dr. Deming to train using the Kaizen process, Sarasohn and Protzman were also instructors of the Kaizen method themselves and even taught it in their 1949 course. So it’s clear to see that the Kaizen process came a long way since it’s humble post-war beginnings. Today, even the huge, lean manufacturing concept founding corporation Toyota has been known to use the Kaizen process as well.
The Kaizen process may have influenced many businesses over the years but, the FEELING of the Kaizen process is what makes it even more essential to a company’s overall moral. For example, how great is it when your boss comes up to you at work, pats you on the back and says “Job well done”? And how amazing is it when an employee is given a huge retirement party and there in front of all of their peers and colleagues, a wonderful celebration is thrown for them in their honor to show the company’s appreciation? Who wouldn’t love a company that sees them that way?
This is what the Kaizen process is really all about?
Now that we know where the Kaizen process came from and why it was necessary after World War II, let’s move into all of the ideals of the Kaizen process that makes it so special. We touched lightly on ‘The Human Factor’ which we will go into in a bit but for now, let’s explore the Kaizen strategy and how it directly relates to creating a better workplace for employees.
What is Kaizen strategy?
The Kaizen strategy is when the Kaizen ideals of betterment and overall improvement can be broken down and worked into small productive daily routine steps. This strategy includes changes meant to improve the work place, to ensure that production moves more efficiently and to ultimately bring forth a feeling of ‘human warmth’ to the work space with an open exchange of employee ideas for further growth. Whether it’s a large group or just one individual, Kaizen strategy should make the work environment easier for humans due to the use of more efficient machine processes. Now with that time freed up, the employees can enjoy more fresh ideas and problem solving exchanges. If done the right way, a Kaizen strategy can make employees much more than just production resources churning out products…
It makes them feel appreciated. That’s ‘The Human Factor’ of the Kaizen strategy.
What is the 5S in Kaizen?
Along with the positive energy and productive practices that Kaizen brings to a work environment, Kaizen is also known for having steps that will ensure that the small improvement process runs smoothly. These are called Kaizen 5S. Employees can’t complete too many tasks in manufacturing without following these 5 simple steps. Whether an employee is cleaning a work area or in a work cell manufacturing 100 dishes, the following steps of Kaizen can make almost any process easier to accomplish.
- To Sort — 5S Seiri
5S Seiri is the necessary decluttering in a work area. It’s when employees move anything that’s not adding to the production process out of the way. Is there a bunch of boxes that’s not needed in the main work space? If so, once the boxes are taken away, more space will be freed up to work more efficiently. Just like we choose to tidy up in our homes, decluttering at work is just as important if not MORE so because a neat work station can affect many jobs, several future consumers and all the products that come out of the production area.
- To Set In Order — 5S Seiton
5S Seiton is the step that refers to ‘making a place for everything’. It’s putting everything back in order. Why would scissors be in a station that has no use for them and meanwhile, the department that needs scissors only has a couple of pairs there now. This is an example of how time can be wasted looking around for misplaced items. Therefore, putting everything back where they all belong will help maximize productivity and minimize frustration levels of not locating tools when they are needed. Who wants to yell out “Hey Stevie, have you seen the scissors? I just can’t find them anywhere!”
- To Clean — 5S Seiso
5S Seiso is what we do every day, all day at work AND at home: We constantly clean! Imagine producing 20 beautiful white linen napkin and then accidentally putting them on a dirty counter? All of those resources and the time and wages used to make them would all be lost once they were damaged. Keeping the work area clean is essential in order for production rates to remain high and to also make sure that defects are minimal. If all of those dirty linen napkins somehow slipped into a delivery to a high end store, how well do you think that the store buyer would be when they discover the dirty napkins? Cleaning can stop this from ever happening.
- To Standardize — 5S Seiketsu
The word ‘standardize’ brings back memories of the SAT test in high school. The Standarized Aptitude Test back then was a high risk test. If the SAT score was too low, colleges would lack interest in a student applying however, if it was a high SAT score, colleges would all WANT the high scoring student to apply. The 5S Seiketsu step is set around the idea of a ‘Standardized’ way of combining the last 3 steps, Seiri, Seiton and Seiso. Seiketsu is about having an ordered process that all employees understand what to do and all the components move together smoothly. So if the work area has been sorted, cleaned and everything has been put in its place, this process could be considered Seiketsu. It’s referred to as the way that the work area was ‘standardized’. This step would also help employees to comply with code and regulations.
- To Sustain — 5S Shitsuke
5S Shitsuke is all about ‘maintenance’ in a work area. After all of the other 4 steps have been done successfully, Shitsuke is the one step that consolidates all the other steps. It keeps the work area clean, sorted and with everything in its place and always ready for inspection. How many times have you had your living room vacuumed, dusted and cleaned for days and then on the ONE DAY that you make a small mess, there’s a knock at your door? And just as a surprise house guest arrives, you now must rush and tidy up? This is also common in a busy work environment whenever this type of last minute tidying up has to happen to avoid problems. The 5th step, Shitsuke is the ‘All of the above’ step. Sometimes cleaning isn’t as hard as sustaining an area that was already clean, right?
What is the continuous improvement process (CIP)?
We’ve touched on how Kaizen is defined as “betterment or improvement” in the various Japanese and English dictionaries and also how it means “improvement” in the manufacturing industry. We also went into the steps that employees use from the Kaizen philosophy to help them keep work clean and tidy at all times. Now how here comes the exciting part of Kaizen…
It’s the CONTINOUS improvement Process also known as CIP.
Have you ever seen the TV commercials with the hair coloring system that helps women and men with grey hair to ‘gradually and continuously dye’ their grey hair? They achieve this by dying their grey hair little by little, wash after wash. The main idea is that a person with a full head of grey hair shouldn’t just come to the office on Monday with a full head of silver grey hair and then waltz back in the following day with all JET BLACK hair! Without a doubt, the CIP system of ‘continuous improvement’ would have been a perfect mindset for this situation.
With the continuous improvement process (CIP), improvements are done on a daily basis in small, gradual and continuous ways done. Anything done in CIP happens little by little, never big improvements and never all at once. So even though the Kaizen philosophies may be mostly about overall improvements, the term ‘continuous improvements’ should always be happening little by little in a work space.
Speaking on constant small improvements, this leads us back to lean manufacturing and how Kaizen can be applied. Anytime the term ‘lean’ is used in manufacturing, the main objective is to constantly be trying to avoid the 8 unnecessary examples of waste and also how to keep productivity levels high. Now if we combine those two concepts, we have Kaizen’s quest for improvement and the lean mindset of avoiding waste. Since those two paths cross in manufacturing, it’s easy to see why the lean manufacturing industry embraces Kaizen improvements. It wouldn’t be hard for any of us to understand why a lean manufacturing employee would be trying to improve their work area with Kaizen and CIP principles, would it?
Let’s admit it…
Self-improvement is not always as easy as it should be.
Whether we are gradually dyeing our grey hair back to black little by little daily in the privacy of our own shower in the process that’s similar to CIP or whether we are running around our houses constantly cleaning and organizing like the 5S steps of Kaizen, one way or the other, we all try our best to improve ourselves. The best thing about improvements isn’t always what we can see on the outside but, many times, the excitement of improvement is how it makes us feel on the INSIDE.
Ever wondered why we are always trying to improve in some way? Sometimes we may not even know why ourselves. There’s only thing that can be for certain anytime an improvement takes place. That improvement guarantees something that’s hard to duplicate in the rest of our daily worlds. Because whenever an improvement is made, even if we can enjoy the new changes for only a few minutes, we know something special happens for sure.
The power of Kaizen improvement comes with ONE simple promise:
Improvements make everything just a little better than they were before.
How can digital signage improve Kaizen?
Digital signage communicates real-time, weekly, monthly and quarterly KPIs (key performance indicators). For example, it can display defects per millions, or percentage of on-time delivery. Digital signage helps to show employees that continuous improvement is taking place. Digital signage can deliver newsletters and management messages to reinforce company culture and improve internal communication and employee engagement.