KAIZEN: A Systematic Way to Transform Your Business 2023

Have you ever felt like your business is stagnant? That so much of company time is wasted without anything to show for it? That there must be a better way?

That’s what Kaizen is all about: making things better. Paul Akers has learned directly from the Japanese how to implement kaizen at Fast Cap, and he’s excited to share it with you!

Paul’s experience with kaizen in Fast Cap has given him the knowledge and skills to travel the world and educate people on the kaizen philosophy. We’ll share with you the insights Paul shared with us and give you ideas of how to implement kaizen in your business.

What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement, but Paul tells us there is so much more to it than improvement. He told us:

Kaizen isn’t just improvement. It’s continuous improvement every day. Kaizen is a mindset that starts when you wake up and goes throughout the day.
The practice of Kaizen goes back to after WWII when Japan was rebuilding and many American quality control experts were in the area. The Japanese took the lessons learned from these quality control experts and made it their own.

The most famous adoption of kaizen is the Toyota Way, a leading philosophy in lean manufacturing. Toyota has been utilizing the Kaizen philosophy for a long time. The Toyota Way combines Kaizen with a people-first mentality to create a culture of respectful, continuous improvement.

Paul says:

Kaizen makes you happy. It improves your life. It improves your work. It improves your mentality.
It’s basically solving problems so they don’t keep occurring.
What Are the 5 elements of Kaizen?
The five elements of Kaizen are:

Teamwork- Working toward a common goal
Personal discipline- Holding oneself responsible for doing what is right
Improved morale- Higher levels of happiness
Quality- Fewer flaws, better craftsmanship
Suggestions for improvement- Openness to ways to improve
Based on research and the interviews with Paul, it appears to me that when you look at these together, they all feed into each other and almost naturally push a person or company to greater heights.

Throughout Kaizen history, there seems to be a focus on the positive. The focus on the positive tends to create more ideas, improvement, and productivity.

When ideas are turned into processes, they create higher quality and greater teamwork, which creates improved morale. Then they keep on feeding each other.

What are the main principles of kaizen philosophy?
According to the Kaizen Institute, Kaizen Philosophy is based on 5 basic principles:

Know Your Customer
Eliminate Waste or “Muda”
Practice Gemba (be where work is performed)
Empower Your People
Measure and Honestly Share Data
Let’s dig into each of these.

Know Your Customer

Knowing your customer is an essential first step to starting a journey of continuous improvement. Whether being applied in a business sense or your personal life, improvements need to create a benefit for those it impacts.

Creating improvements for others requires knowing what is important to them. How do we establish what is important to our customers though?

Here are some ways you can establish what is important to your customer:

Customer satisfaction surveys
Database of customer suggestions and complaints
Industry Trends
You are your customer
Behavioral Research
Most of these will require good data management, which I will talk about momentarily, but many businesses are started because you are the customer.

That was the case with Fast Cap.

In our interview with Paul, he told us:

I created Fast Cap because I wanted a quick way to make the cabinets I build look better.
That’s what it means when I say you are the customer. You created the product to improve your own life.

In this scenario, you can think about what you are like and create a customer profile based on your characteristics. In Paul’s scenario, the customer for Fast Caps would look like this:

Carpenters, Craftsmen, Cabinet Makers
Care about Efficiency
Care about Quality
Those three things can help him identify places to reach customers, like union publications and trade magazines, which will also help keep track of industry trends.

Eliminate Waste or “Muda”

The Japanese call waste Muda and believe that eliminating waste creates a happier, more productive life and business.

This approach to process improvement can be done occasionally in what is referred to as a kaizen blitz or can be a daily focus on continuous improvement.

Either way, eight types of Muda can be eliminated:

Overproduction-producing too much of a product
Waiting- Wasted time
Transportation- Sending goods out of the way during the supply chain
Overprocessing- Adding unnecessary features
Movement- Taking steps that don’t contribute to the process
Inventory- Storing too much product and tying up cash
Making Defective Parts- Wasting inputs.
Underutilized Talent- Failing to allow employees to contribute as well as they could.
Practice Gemba
Paul told us:

Gemba means investigating the scene of the crime.
Every time you see me I’m on the shop floor. Not in some office away from what’s going on. That’s where the action is. I’ve got to be here to actually find things that aren’t working well.
The only way you’re going to get ideas for improvement is by being where the work is performed. That’s where meaningful changes can be made, but management can’t be the only people involved in Kaizen and Gemba.

Kaizen works best when all employees are actively involved in the process of generating ideas and looking for improvements. They perform the work every day, so they know what doesn’t work.

Employees told us:

Kaizen increases teamwork by making the processes readily known. If I don’t know the process, it’s harder to help other employees with their job.
Watch the video below for the full conversation.

Empower Your People

Kainen is all about empowering your people. Management can’t identify every waste or need for improvement in the company process(es).

Therefore they have to rely on their people to identify opportunities to improve the process(es) they are most familiar with.

Companies do their best when their employees are happy and engaged. In the workforce, they describe that as company culture, but Paul views making his employees happy as the entire point of Kaizen. He told us:

Happy employees are productive employees. The whole point of kaizen is to get rid of the things that bug you. If you get rid of them, you make all our lives easier, and we can work better as a team.
Here’s how Paul does that. His team doesn’t have to get permission to fix something that is bothering them — they just have to develop a solution, inform the team lead, and share it on the WhatsApp workplace improvements chat.

That keeps everyone on the same page so they can jump in to help other areas of the team.

Measure and Honestly Share Data
To encourage the team to truly make meaningful incremental changes requires measuring and honestly sharing data.

Many companies like to control their data by only sharing it on a need-to-know basis.

If you have worked with a major publicly held company recently, you have probably heard management tell their employee base some really big lies.

My first day at major building control and defense contractor started with a team meeting, and the first thing the employees asked is:

Are we going to get raises this year?
The answer was no, they couldn’t afford it. Meanwhile, they did a $100B stock buyback and recorded record profit. Shockingly, I didn’t stay long because the workers were miserable and the workplace lacked an appealing culture.

The moral of the story the employee’s hard work paid off for the organization, but management chose not to share information honestly.

How Does Kaizen work?
The kaizen process is meant to be a daily improvement process. Paul explains the process and gives examples in Part 1 of our interview.