How to Implement Kaizen

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Kaizen, in essence, is a concept in which we practice continuous improvement in order to refine each and every process, making it more effic...

Kaizen, in essence, is a concept in which we practice continuous improvement in order to refine each and every process, making it more efficient and easier along the way. Although original designed for use within a physical production environment, kaizen is easily adapted to the service industries and professional services that dominate the economies of many countries today.

By Karn G. Bulsuk



Throughout the kaizen article series, we have covered the four tools to turn kaizen from a concept into reality: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), ho-ren-so (360-degree communication), visual control (mieruka) and the 5-whys. It is the timed use of these tools which allows us to achieve kaizen.

All the tools are linked, as seen in the diagram above.

Stage 1: Identify the problem and use PDCA for project management


Kaizen starts off with the identification of an opportunity for improvement within processes, or the identification of a problem. Once you’ve identified the problem, we start off at the centre of the diagram: Plan-Do-Check-Act. First, we would formulate a plan to improve the identified process (Plan), which is important as diving in blind often leads to more problems which need to be fixed.

Stage 2: Use Ho-ren-so for 360-degree communication to all stakeholders


During our planning stage we would also perform 360-degree communication, or ho-ren-so: inform-update-consult. This is so that when we plan, we are able to get input from both our superiors and subordinates to help us develop a more comprehensive plan, and helping to ensure the plan is relevant to all stakeholders and solves a viable problem.

Ho-ren-so needs to be performed throughout our PDCA cycle, in order to keep everyone in the loop throughout the entire kaizen project.

During our “Do” stage, we would execute the plan, while paying close attention to where the plan ran into problems. Our observations would feed us directly into the “Check” part, which is where we take those problems during execution, and find out a way to prevent them from happening again. In Toyota, this is referred to as “countermeasures”.

Stage 3: Use the 5-why methodology to identify root causes of problems


Problems encountered need to first be analysed for their root cause, as otherwise the solutions formulated may only end up scratching the surface. The method commonly used for this is the 5-why technique, in which we ask “why” five times to a problem, in the hopes of discovering the true cause.

Once we have identified the root causes of problems during implementation, we then move onto the “Act” stage. Here, we formulate countermeasures to prevent the problem from happening again. It is a method in which we make the change permanent, so that past problems do not reassert themselves sometime in the future.

Stage 4: Use Visual Control (Mieruka) to make the communicate the change and make it permanent



The “Visuals” ring around everything else is designed to convey the importance of using visual control during the entirety of your kaizen project. Visual control helps to achieve kaizen because we communicate important information to our stakeholders, supporting ho-ren-so. It may even be a kaizen project on its own: visual control allows quick and immediate identification and classification of just about anything, which in itself helps to prevent mistakes from being made. If a process is well documented with pictures, then there is a lower chance someone will misunderstand it.

Stage 5: Success

Once we have used all these tools in conjunction and developed a project for implementation, we have achieved kaizen. It is a gradual process which needs focus: many kaizen projects fail because they are overambitious, trying to fix a plethora of problems instead of only focusing on one or a few at a time.

Mastery of kaizen is dependent on mastery of the four tools, as they make up when we know as kaizen. For a recap, read some of the summary articles found on the Toyota Production System summary page.

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: How to Implement Kaizen
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