The Meaning of “Kaizen”
Kaizen is a Japanese word that literally means “good change.” In the context of Lean it represents the idea of continuous improvement.
In practice the word takes on two meanings, and for this reason we like to differentiate kaizen in two ways:
- Kaizen – incremental change making big changes over a long period of time
- Kaizen blitz – concentrated change making big changes over a short period of time
Ordinary kaizen describes a single and typically small change for the better. It could be as simple repositioning a tool at your desk or at a workstation.
One of the best presentations of this concept is what Paul Akers at FastCap calls “2 Second Lean.” FastCap employees are actually taught to make a 2 second improvement every day.
The bar is set low so everyone can participate, and the results are extreme.
(Of course, many improvements are made that far exceed 2 seconds!)
Two seconds of improvement may not sound like a lot, but if one employee were to make one change a day that saves 2 seconds every day, by the end of the year that one employee would have saved 36.9 hours!
An organization that creates a culture of kaizen becomes a formidable force. It can take a long time to establish, but once kaizen becomes a way of life the results can easily surpass any other improvement tool.
The phrase “kaizen blitz” is used to describe continuous improvement events that are commonly scheduled within Lean organizations. This is when dedicated resources of people, time, materials, and even money are given to a specific improvement cause.
They typically last no longer than a week with a definite start and end date.
In this time a team of employees may completely redesign a workflow, troubleshoot a problem, or accomplish some other impressive feat.
Great results are attainable because of the dedicated resources and hands-on nature of getting the work done.
However, there is a method to planning and facilitating a kaizen blitz that is important to pay attention to. Otherwise, the team effort may quickly devolve into a long and inefficient “project,” taking up much more time and resources to finish.