The Origin of Kaizen
The word kaizen means “improvement” or “change for the better” in Japanese. However, the term is used more specifically to refer to continuous improvement, or small changes.
The term Kaizen first adopted this meaning in the world of business. This was especially pertaining to the methodologies of car manufacturer Toyota, initially.
The strategy has been successfully adapted to business for many organizations, and later to the self-improvement field. The book Toyota Way explains the use of Kaizen in detail and has canonized its usage to some extent.
That said, the self-improvement crowd has also somewhat applied a little artistic license to the way it uses kaizen. In many ways, self-help books tend to oversimplify Kaizen, while others misinterpret some of the core concepts.
Kaizen is all about focusing on the minutiae. Making small changes that add up to big differences. Whereas many selfhelp books tell you that this translates to “flossing your teeth” a little every day to ingrain new habits, that isn’t anything to do with the original meaning of the word.
That isn’t to say that this advice doesn’t have merit. We will be discussing all types of kaizen but by addressing the strictest business interpretation first, we’ll also understand the “official” version – which just so happens to also be extremely powerful and often overlooked.
Types of Kaizen
In business, in its original context, Kaizen has been generally broken down into two separate terms:
• Flow kaizen
• Process kaizen
In flow kaizen, the approach looks at a “value stream.” This might be a whole work flow, in which the organization can look for different opportunities to improve the process.
If you imagine a large production line that involves several stages. While making a tiny change at each step of the way won’t seem to have a big impact on its own, when taken as a whole, all those tiny improvements can potentially have a huge result.
Process kaizen on the other hand is the “concentrated improvement of a single process.” That means looking at one step and making constant small improvements to get it to the point where it is the best it can be.
Kaizen is often described as being “bottom up,” meaning that you start by looking at the most fundamental levels and making small changes there. You can potentially improve every aspect of your business by cleaning the floors.
Why? Because cleaner floors mean fewer accidents and happier staff. That leads to more efficient storage and retrieval. That leads to more funds left over, and happier customers. That leads to more moral and more R&D. The result is better products, and a better brand image.
Simplify and Eliminate Waste
Moreover, Kaizen is also about looking to eliminate waste. In any given process, there is almost always “waste” that can be eliminated. By getting rid of these errors, you can significantly increase the speed of a process. This can have huge and transformational changes for a business.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are someone who writes articles for a big blog and uploads them to WordPress every day (WordPress being an online publishing platform).
When you upload the article, you need to add images and formatting like bolding and headers etc. So your current workflow looks like this:
• You write your article
• You read through your work and check for typos
• You upload the article to WordPress
• You read through your work and upload images and add formatting
What’s wrong with this? Well nothing on the face of it, except that by taking this approach, you’re not working in the most efficient way possible. That’s because you’re currently reading through everything you wrote twice.
That’s once to make sure that it is spelled correctly and once to add images. So why not:
• Write the article
• Upload it to WordPress
• Read through it and fix typos while formatting
This has effectively combined two steps into one step that will take slightly longer than either on its own, but will be much quicker than doing both. And that in turn can potentially save you a large amount of time and effort in the long run.
Let’s say this saves you 10 minutes per article, and that you upload 10 articles per day. That’s 100 minutes back and perhaps this now means you can afford to upload an additional article? If so, you might now be able to earn an extra $30 a day.
As an example, you might use Kaizen therefore to earn an extra $30 every single day without increasing your rates, working harder, or otherwise changing anything about your business! And kaizen is always relentless. Because there’s still probably waste here.
What if you could remove the time spent uploading by writing directly into WordPress? And what if you batched all of your proofing and formatting together? Could that save you more time?
Kaizen is constantly looking for waste like this and opportunities to streamline and improve flows and processes. Here are a few examples of types of “waste” that a Kaizen practitioner might look for in a typical business:
• Defects – Poor copies, mistakes, errors
• Excess processing – Repairs
• Overproduction – Overestimating demand
• Waiting – Waiting for the next step in the chain to become ready
• Inventory – Waiting on stock/supplies/materials
• Transportation – Time spent transporting people or goods
• Moving – Excessive movement of machines or people
• Non-utilized talent – Utilizing skilled workers in a non-skilled capacity
While this type of kaizen might seem less obviously applicable to your personal life, the truth is that it can be immensely powerful if you look at your own processes.
The Origin of Kaizen – Conclusion
I hope you add the Kaizen process to your line of thinking to help you grow your business or reach whatever goal you desire. Changing the way your mind has been trained for years is the key.
If you’ve found this post helpful please leave a comment below and share with your friends. Also make sure to check out some of my other posts that will get you on the right track.