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Reaping the benefits of continuous improvement with Kaizen

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28th February 2019

For those of you that haven’t heard of Kaizen, don’t worry, it’s not a new superfood or yoga position; it’s actually a Japanese concept of continuous improvement, based on the idea that ongoing positive changes can lead to major improvements over time. Translated into business life, it’s a strategy where employees at all levels of a company work together to achieve small but regular improvements. Kaizen first originated after World War II when Toyota implemented groups of workers, known as quality circles, focused on preventing defects in its production process.

One of the reasons Kaizen works so well is the fact that it isn’t something imposed from above and it’s a concept that involves everyone. At Eurocell, we have a dedicated Kaizen team, made up of manufacturing floor operatives who gather and relay information from the rest of the team on areas that need improvement.

More often than not, some of the best ideas come from the shop floor because workers there know what elements can be improved. With this in mind, in each department of our business, we have staff working as advocates that promote best practice and put forward suggestions. This means that potential improvements are both identified and actioned by the people actually working in that particular area.

We’ve been applying the principles of Kaizen at Eurocell for a while now and as a result have improved the efficiency of our manufacturing process, leading to significant savings. Our Kaizen process involves collaboration between everyone, from head office to the Kaizen team and the other operatives on the manufacturing floor. This enables us to identify and understand the processes that lead to waste and seek their advice on the most practical ways to improve the manufacturing process.

Our operations director Peter Kelly, is a Kaizen advocate and has been involved with it for many years. Speaking of the benefits we’ve seen since adopting the concept, he said: “You can cut costs, improve quality and deliver reliably if you are prepared to commit to learning and applying Kaizen principles and that is what we are doing.”

Whilst it was developed for the manufacturing sector, Kaizen can be adapted and applied to many other areas of business. If you’re interested in applying the principles to your business, we’ve outlined some tips for implementing the Kaizen cycle for continuous improvement:

•Involve your employees

The first stage of Kaizen is to involve your employees and seek their help in identifying problems that need addressing. This can involve appointing a specialist Kaizen team who gather the information from the rest of the employees for you.

•Identify problems and solutions

Once you have the feedback from your employees, put together a list of problems, creating a shortlist if there are many issues to address. It’s also important to encourage employees to offer creative solutions to the problems.

•Test the solution

Work with your team to identify the best solution from the ideas presented and test it out. Make sure everyone is evolved in the testing process and start off with small steps or pilot programmes before rolling it out fully.

•Standardise and repeat

Analyse the results to determine how successful the change has been. If results are positive, adapt the solution for other areas of your business. These steps should be repeated on an ongoing basis to provide new solutions to other problems.

With its focus on gradual improvement, Kaizen offers a softer approach to change which, in many cases, can be more practical and achievable than a complete overhaul, all in one go. Adopting the principles of Kaizen has enabled us to scrutinise our manufacturing processes, and as a result eliminate waste and errors, as well as improve overall efficiencies.