Kaizen means “change for better”, however in popular management science it’s known as “Continuous Improvement”. This concept first used by Japanese industries in the post-world war II era and later popularised by the Toyota Way has now become part of most manufacturing and IT industries the world over.
The simple idea behind the mindset of continuous improvement is that there is always scope for improvement in the process and individual performing the job. It also emphasizes that the job instruction, job methods, and job relations can also improve over a period of time and hence there is always scope for doing small improvements in each of these aspects.
If you ever wondered the business impact of such small improvements on business, you may consider reading the “Innovation in India” report published by National Knowledge Commission. In this report, about 76% of companies focused on incremental innovation against 37% who focused on breakthrough innovation. With a good mix of large & small companies across various sectors, this report is a comprehensive effort to document the efforts & benefits of innovation in Indian organizations.
One of the key observations in this report is about internal & external barriers to innovation in companies. While typically the external barriers mentioned are lack of focus on an innovation mindset in the education curriculum and collaboration in research between industry & academia. The internal barriers typically include an organizational focus on innovation, inefficient knowledge management systems, and sustainable model for continuous improvements. If one looks at the internal barriers listed herein they can be effectively solved by use of technology in general and HR technology in particular.
In order to create a culture of continuous improvement, there are a lot of guidance and case studies available from various resources including Kaizen institute. If you looked at key aspects of creating this culture of continuous improvement few that are obvious and can be solved by use of technology are – Making it part of the routine, Measure results, and Creating visibility.
If you want all employees to give small improvement suggestions about business processes and products based on their daily interactions, creating a simple system to log these ideas sounds like a good plan. Such a system then can use a workflow via which verified and approved ideas are acted upon. This process goes a long way in making this part of everyone’s daily routine.
Many organizations put continuous improvement targets as part of the KRA or KPI of individuals without having an effective system to record, review, & communicate these improvement projects. Lack of such systems will mean that organizations will struggle to collaborate across functions and the administrative load of conducting kaizen activities will be seen as a major distraction to get things done.
Measurement is a key aspect of any business activity and more so in the kaizen journey. When you are prioritizing from multiple kaizen ideas it helps to select the ones that would create the greatest impact in the shortest timeframe. It’s equally critical to document the before and after assumptions about such benefits. In many situations the assumptions made while approving the kaizen project might change by the time it gets completed, thus having a system of record & comparison would surely help organizations implementing the kaizen program. In this entire process, the role of mentors and benefit approvers is critical and ensuring they have access to all information related to various kaizen projects, is critical for the successful evaluation and communication of the program.
The most important aspect to keep the kaizen efforts sustained is to create visibility of successful kaizen projects and reward & recognize such individuals and teams across the organization. In a distributed workforce a technological solution that helps in curating and communicating this information will help organizations sustain the program effectively.
Designing and implementing a continuous improvement program is a key aspect of any organizational strategy today. Such efforts help companies stay relevant and competitive while also leading to newer services and products over a period of time. It is very clear that companies that will invest in such efforts will reap benefits. While making statements about continuous improvement is easy, implementing and sustaining this within your organization requires lot of effort and hard work. Deploying an effective and efficient technology solution to support your continuous improvement efforts will go a long way in ensuring the sustainability of your efforts.
“Innovation has led to a greater increase in profitability for manufacturing firms and a greater reduction in costs for services firms” – Innovation In India report by National Knowledge Commission