I have noticed that beginners, whether they are students or starting their first business, often try to achieve their initial goals at any cost, without considering the costs and negative impact of certain actions. However, life teaches us lessons, and every subsequent endeavor, even if it comes at a high cost, allows us to gain experience and knowledge that is useful in tackling future challenges. It is through experience that we subconsciously know what to avoid or what solutions to apply in order to achieve intended results faster. But wait, isn't that how processes are created? Yes, I'm referring to those processes that you use in your daily work. Sometimes they may not be perfect or efficient, but they help you move from point A to point B. That's why the philosophy of Kaizen, derived from Japanese culture and management practices, which emphasizes continuous and never-ending improvement of functioning processes in a business or even in your everyday life, was developed.
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Notice that every day you are connected to multiple social groups, such as family, friends, coworkers from your company, colleagues from school, collaborators from associations, or members of various clubs. Due to the constantly changing world, each of these social groups requires continuous improvement in every sphere of life. But what exactly is the pursuit of perfection? I call perfection a process that is based on a defined list of steps that selectively eliminate any identified discrepancies, while learning and drawing conclusions from each day we have experienced. Essentially, improvement according to the principles of Kaizen happens slowly, and the process itself yields tangible results in the longer term, shaping characteristics such as time management, self-discipline, skill development, problem-solving, and teamwork.
It is worth mentioning that in the philosophy of Kaizen, the most essential factor is the optimization of time between problem identification and implementation of improvement in our process. Actions must be fast and effective, as we cannot afford to react after a year of identifying a defect or flaw.
That's why we distinguish two types of continuous improvement methods:
- Kaizen of flow, as the name suggests, focuses on improving the flow of information and materials within our company. It is often associated with the reorganization of an entire department or even the entire company.
- Kaizen of process, on the other hand, involves making incremental improvements to a specific workstation, or your processes based on which you produce your products or provide services. The goal of improvement is to make small steps that require minimal implementation effort.
Where can we apply Kaizen in our daily lives? Cultivating openness to change and creating a new, stable organizational culture takes years. Masaaki Imai, who popularized the Kaizen approach worldwide, said in one of his interviews: "Despite failure, I recommend continuing with the actions taken. Analyze what was done wrong and try again. A culture of continuous improvement, successfully implemented, pays off in the years of effort invested. My advice is to work on it for at least three years. Only then can you evaluate the results."
Improving our processes using the Kaizen principle can be applied in many areas, for example:
- improving product quality,
- reducing production costs,
- establishing appropriate criteria for evaluating work and rewarding employees,
- streamlining logistics,
- eliminating technical issues,
- and many more.
As a business owner, you know best what works and what needs improvement in your own business. Even if you have trouble identifying your initial goals, you can always ask for input from your community - your customers. They are always willing to talk to you about the product or service they have purchased.
Aristotle used to say that we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.
What steps, then, should be taken to implement Kaizen in your life?
- Observation - observe your daily actions and processes. Consider what works and what needs improvement. You can also appoint someone to a separate job position who will oversee employee training and promote the Kaizen concept.
- Analysis - thoroughly analyze the problem, reflect on the causes of its occurrence. Analyze customer complaints and feedback in terms of cost and quantity. Describe the collected findings in detail on paper.
- Prepare an improvement plan - based on the collected findings, prepare the first plan for your improvement, which includes a detailed list of steps to eliminate the identified problem.
- Implement the plan - Set a date and implement the improvement, it is important to do it as soon as possible after identifying the problem in your process.
- Check for ongoing problems - Periodically check if the implemented improvement fully eliminates the identified problem. Do not rely on one opinion, wait, gather a larger sample of data, and re-analyze all cases.
- Take corrective actions - If it turns out that the implemented solution has gaps, it's time to prepare another improvement and repeat steps 4 and 5.
- Establish a standard - After several months of consistently achieving tangible benefits and the same result every time, we can talk about a standard.
As you can see, the above list of steps is not long and complicated. It only requires your commitment. The Kaizen philosophy is primarily about a way of creative thinking that, when properly implemented, can bring significant benefits not only to your company but also to your personal life. It is certainly not a quick fix to solve immediate problems.
I hope that the knowledge I have shared with you today will transform your daily life. Remember to subscribe to my podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Take care and see you in the next episode.
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Leszek W. Król
On a daily basis, I accompany companies and institutions in designing strategies and developing new products and services.