What is Kaizen?

From the Japanese Kai (improvement) and Zen (good), today Kaizen reflects a business philosophy of continuous improvement that involves every single employee within an organisation.  It originated in an era of austerity, when time and resources were limited, so instead the focus shifted on small improvements that could quickly be implemented.  The Kaizen approach essentially strives to identify improvements for the current workforce, equipment and technologies to provide quick wins at a low cost.  

How Kaizen works

The success of Kaizen lies in the involvement of all employees at every level of a company.  Rather than a top-down or bottom-up approach, every person is encouraged to share suggestions for improvements.  Through the collective individual efforts of an entire organisation, small improvements can be actioned across every area of the business to achieve incremental innovation – over time, making a significant overall impact.  What’s more, empowering employees to have a say on changes in the workplace boosts morale which, in turn, leads to higher productivity levels.

What’s the difference between Kaizen and innovation?

The key difference between Kaizen and innovation is that Kaizen is a gradual process whereas innovation can be considered as a more radical action.  Kaizen focuses on small improvements that can be easily taken on a regular and consistent basis with the aim of delivering incremental improvements on a long-term scale.  Innovation, on the other hand, focuses on large, dramatic improvements that require investment and planning which aim to deliver significant improvements in a relatively short timescale after implementation.  

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How Kaizen and innovation work together

Fresh, new and creative ideas that bring about business improvements are at the centre of both Kaizen and innovation initiatives.  Through radical changes, an organisation can provide significant improvements in productivity and efficiency, whilst continuous improvements maintain the momentum and further build upon the success and benefits of the initial innovative implementation.

Both Kaizen and innovation will only be successful with the involvement and commitment of top management to maintain the momentum and focus of initiatives.  Time and investment in training employees in new processes, procedures and behaviours will require commitment and long-term vision which could be jeopardised by managerial changes. Furthermore, without this support, new ideas could be unintentionally discouraged. 

How is Kaizen used in logistics?

Supply chains have grown in both complexity and intricacy.  In today’s interconnected world, numerous stakeholders across international regions all play a key part.  The Kaizen model provides a means to improve upon processes without jeopardising the overall operation.  This is because changes are small and low-cost with instant results. The key principles of Kaizen involve identifying quick win solutions to problems to improve the overall standard of the operation, and with the full involvement of all employees. Within logistics, the benefits of Kaizen include:

  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Better communication
  • Improved service & product quality
  • Reduction of waste
  • Improved competitiveness
  • Improved efficiency
  • Higher customer satisfaction

Examples of Kaizen in logistics and supply chains can be found in organisations across the world.  Kaizen forms one of the core principles of The Toyota Production System, empowering individual employees to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions. For Nestlé, Kaizen has resulted in vast improvements in the reduction of waste by lowering the time and materials on their processes.  Here at Yusen Logistics, Kaizen is a part of the organisation culture – supported by top management and encouraged through annual awards on a regional and global scale.

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How to apply Kaizen to your operation

Kaizen initiatives should be simple and easy to implement.  An effective way to achieve this is to follow the PDCA (plan-do-check-act) cycle:

  • Plan: Create a detailed process of the improvement to take place and identify the goals you want to achieve.
  • Do: Test the potential improvement by carrying out a trial or small-scale study.
  • Check: Measure and review the results to determine the effectiveness of the plan.
  • Act: If the results of your trial are successful then implement the change. If not, adjust the plan and repeat the cycle.   

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