Applying Lean Principles – The Kaizen Method

In Jeff Miller’s CSIA 2010 presentation, he proposed using the same lean manufacturing principles to their own processes as a system integration company. The second method that he described was the Kaizen Method.

Kaizen – Japanese for Improvement

The Kaisen philosophy or practices focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, supporting business processes, and management. When used in the business, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country. It has since spread throughout the world.

Applying Kaizen to Your Business

As Jeff Miller described their Kaizen efforts, I could see how it could (and perhaps should) be applied by many of our Alliance Partners. As opposed to the Value Mapping, Kaizen is optimal for quick, incremental improvements for the better. You could argue that all employees should just naturally do this, but (for some reason), it just doesn’t happen.

So, it is worth going through a formal process. Start by picking an area of your business that you sense inefficiencies. Create a review team to map out the steps and brainstorm improvements. Involve in the day to day process as well as your Lean Core Team.

Start by creating a flow chart to make process visible. Establish a baseline and measures such as time( elapsed, lead), cost (# of steps, cycle time, paperwork), and quality (first pass yield, error rate, rework).

Then, identify waste (non-value adding steps) and decide how to eliminate them. See the white board example provided by Miller. I really liked the use of Post It Notes to make it easy to redesign the process. And, I’m sure it was gratifying to see the number of them that ended up in the ‘elimination circle.’

The sessions will typically 4 hours or less where you are looking for small improvements that you can implement quickly. By the end of the session, you have defined action items for process improvement. Once complete then look for the next thing to Kaizen.


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