If you run a manufacturing business, you’ll always be striving for constant improvement. ‘Ok’ is never ok – you need to ensure your enterprise can always head for greater heights in order to remain competitive, relevant and capable of continually delighting clients.

The key to this lies in making small improvements consistently and over time, which result in much larger gains and the ability to reach goals that may have previously felt unobtainable.

There’s actually a concept built around this theory, and it’s referred to as ‘Kaizen’.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen’s roots can be found in manufacturing, but in truth, it’s a concept that can be applied to pretty much every business and industry, no matter the size of the organisation.

By leveraging cooperation and commitment from the entire team, kaizen raises the importance of constant improvement within a business by making it front-and-centre in everyone’s thoughts.

It runs through an organisation from top to bottom and is designed to improve productivity and remove defects, inconsistencies and shortcomings from products and services. Most importantly, kaizen can be implemented on virtually any budget and introduced as slowly as the concept requires.

Kaizen can only be implemented company-wide if there’s a genuine desire to identify problems that need resolving and create strategies that do just that, whilst also creating new ideas.

The Japanese are credited with the theory behind kaizen, which includes five principles designed to aid successful implementation of the concept. Known as the ‘5S’, they are as follows:

1) Sort. What isn’t needed within your business processes? What obstacles need to be removed in order to make work easier for employees?
2) Set in order. Of the processes and systems you have in place that are required, how can they be arranged more effectively to improve workflows?
3) Shine. Is the equipment, machinery and technology used each day to produce your products clean, safe and maintained in order to prevent fast deterioration in the quality of output?
4) Standardise. Do all of your work processes abide by a clear standard that every member of the team understands?
5) Sustain. Once you’ve made improvements based on the kaizen principle, can you put in place rules and conduct regular audits to ensure they’re not one-hit-wonders?

It’s easy to see from the above how the kaizen concept originated from manufacturing, but every business could read each one of the 5S rules and realise that it can be just as useful for their own business.

Without these rules, kaizen simply isn’t possible.

What are the key features of Kaizen?

Unlike some of the major, near instant leaps we occasionally see in manufacturing and other industries when it comes to changing the way products are developed, kaizen is characterised by much smaller improvements over a greater period of time.

That makes kaizen far more realistic; no company, no matter how prolific or deep its pockets can make great strides quickly.

To understand just how effective Kaizen is, it’s important to think about the key features of the concept, which are as follows:

• Improvements are based on lots of small changes as opposed to radical changes, and they typically result from periods of research and development (R&D);
• The ideas for improvements usually come from employees, which often makes them easier to implement (because they’re not radically different), and the workers are therefore more invested in them;
• The capital investment required is generally far easier on the bank balance because the changes are so small;
• Rather than relying on expensive consultants or external R&D, kaizen focuses on involving the workforce; and
• Employees are encouraged to continue looking for new ways to both improve their own performance and that of the products and services.

As a result, kaizen fosters a much greater connection between workers and the company’s products; they’re more emotionally invested in the output and it helps them take far greater ownership of the work they undertake.

Kaizen isn’t just a brilliant way to improve the efficiencies of the business overall, it’s a great way to build a team that is highly motivated and far more productive.

How kaizen can help your business
Whether it’s your manufacturing line or a designer’s office within a marketing agency, kaizen’s small improvements over time should result in significant gains.

It’s all about optimising processes and then measuring and adjusting them iteratively to help the business meet much bigger goals further down the road. Take the iPhone; that isn’t the success it is today because of an overnight brainwave – it took many, many years to progress from initial idea to the pocket powerhouse it is today.

Let’s consider three ways kaizen might help your business:

1. Simplified work processes
Businesses should always operate with simple processes. When you strip away all of the complications, red tape and learned ways of working, the way you produce your product and get it out to market shouldn’t be complicated.

Kaizen aids this by eliminating any processes or procedures that are needlessly difficult or complicated, and that should in turn raise employee satisfaction and the quality of the end product.

2. Improved customer satisfaction
Beyond the obvious employee benefits kaizen offers, customer satisfaction should also be increased considerably.

It’s important to remember that despite the slowly, slowly approach, kaizen always has one goal in mind, which is to influence a much larger, more significant change further down the road. This usually results in products that iterate progressively and with features that are genuinely required by the user.

If we use the example of the iPhone once more, we can see how small but significant changes over the last ten years have resulted in a product that is entirely relevant and exciting for a huge market. Your products and services should be exactly the same!

3. Higher levels of safety
Kaizen’s manufacturing roots aren’t just related to improved efficiencies and processes – it has also been used to increase the levels of safety within such businesses.

Manufacturing plants and production lines are inherently dangerous if not managed properly, and kaizen’s focus on reducing complex processes enables businesses to create new processes that have a keen eye on the safety of employees who interact with them.

Wrapping up
Will your business benefit from kaizen? Whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer or web design company, it’s hard to look past the benefits of this brilliant concept.

Why not try it in your business? Kaizen works its way into organisations slowly, which makes implementation far easier, after all.