Where Kaizen and Lean Meet

The symbiosis of Lean and Kaizen

Kaizen is an interesting concept. It’s a separate element to Lean. Lean is about waste elimination, put simply. Kaizen is the focus of continuous improvement and innovative thinking (practical wisdom, my friend Barry McCarthy calls it). The two are not mutually exclusive, but they are distinct components.

I want to talk about Kaizen because as I view it, there are a couple of ways it occurs in a business that has a Lean culture. Generally speaking, the way most people see Kaizen is through their visual management board, which is 50% KPI management and  50% problem-solving. You can see me describing a visual management board here.

Kaizen and Lean go together

In the relationship between Kaizen and Lean, Kaizen is often overlooked. We look at Lean waste identification, waste elimination tools like 5s, visual management boards and even how management should behave. What I don’t think we do enough of, particularly in Australia, is the Kaizen side of it. You can implement 5s and all the tools, but if you don’t have habits of improving and eliminating the waste – for example, ways of getting to the root cause of defects and issues, or ways and techniques of improving the capacity of a machine- you can have the place looking really spick and span, but not have the small improvement in productivity. When you have really good Kaizen happening in your business, it makes Lean go that much better.

Management vs leadership

This is partly because management and leadership are two very separate things. Management is about the focus on the KPI’s and the metrics that drive the business and having procedures in place to improve. Leadership is about taking the lead with a team and helping them to realise their full potential; getting them involved in continuous improvement, problem-solving and so on.

Kaizen as a daily practice

My thoughts on continuous improvement- the daily practice of kaizen- and the threefold approach which I have experienced:

  • A deviation from the standard in our metrics identifies a problem, indicating a need for improvement. We problem solve the issue – why is the condition red, how can we improve it, can we make it better? The route cause is identified and actions are implemented to prevent it from happening again.
  • Creative thinking occurs. People have ideas about ways to improve processes. These ideas are not driven by a KPI which management has set in place. Leaders encourage people to have those continuous improvement ideas – Kaizen ideas, with the view to making things better, more efficient, easier. This innovative thinking drives continuous improvement which leads to improved processes.
  • Deliberate, non-reactive measurement and understanding of processes occurs, culminating in actions designed to improve those processes.  Formalised Kaizen is a result of SMED or QCO initiatives. These things allow for the identification of issues that can be removed from a process, subsequently speeding it up, with less effort. Actions implemented come with an expectation of a particular goal being obtained.

All three areas are equally relevant and important.

A culture of innovative thinking

Lean production is about waste identification and elimination. Kaizen is the process that helps you to be thinking in an innovative manner, enabling the elimination of waste. The two are separate but not mutually exclusive – they have to work together. The whole point is that you are teaching, training and coaching teams to look at their process and identify where there is a waste in it from a Lean perspective. Management needs to have a culture of helping and empowering teams through leadership that allows its members to practice Kaizen on their processes, eliminating wastes. This is when you develop a true self-perpetuating culture of Kaizen and Lean.

Much Respect,