The title of this posts has two of my top three favorite words – “Efficiency” and “Systems”, my third being ice cream, which doesn’t really fit this discussion.
Since I am calling this year “the year of efficiency”, it would make sense to talk about various methods used within our “Systems” to create efficiency. Systems are a part of our every day life, both at home and work. I did a post on the topic of systems on another blog which discussed a DVD by Andy Stanley titled ” “Systems – Liberating your Organization“. Although Andy is a “church” guy and the DVD was about helping church leaders do a better job at running their organization, the concepts discussed work in all aspects of our life. Basically, our world and our life are based on established systems.
Key system statements:
- Systems are your approach to getting things done
- Systems create behaviors
- The system you inherit, adopt or create will eventually impact what employees do
- Systems have a greater impact on an organizational culture than a mission statement. (Mission Statements hang on the wall, your systems are happening down the hall).
If we want to change our world or our life we need to change our systems. When it comes to efficiency, there are two methods that come to mind right away that can be used to optimize our systems – “Kaizen” and “5S”.
Both of these methods are commonly used in business, predominantly in manufacturing environments, but can be applied to many areas of work and personal life.
A Japanese term meaning: “change for the better” or “to become good through change”. The concept of kaizen is one of restructuring and organizing every aspect of a system to ensure it remains at peak efficiency.
5S is the name of a workplace organization method that uses a list of five Japanese words: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke (Sorting, Set, Sweep or Shine, Standardize, and Sustain). The list describes how to organize a work space for efficiency and effectiveness by identifying and storing the items used, maintaining the area and items, and sustaining the new order.
We will get more in to the 5s system in the next post, today we will look at Kaizen.
Kaizen, is a Japanese term and is commonly associated with the manufacturing world in Japan. Although it has probably been made most famous in Japanese culture (think Toyota), the concept was actually taught by Americans to the Japanese after World War II, who embraced it and fine tuned it further.
Some of the key objectives of the Kaizen philosophy include the elimination of waste, quality control, just-in-time delivery, standardized work and the use of efficient equipment.
All good things to apply in our work and with the exception of maybe ‘just in time delivery’, also in our personal life. A commonly used term around Kaizen is “continuous improvement” – not a “quick fix” or a “sudden change”, but continuous improvement.
Kaizen is applied with a few simple steps:
- Standardize a task or process based on specific requirements
- Measure the process
- Compare the results to the requirements
- Innovate to meet or improve on requirements
- Standardize the new, improved process or task
- Continue the cycle infinitely
Kaizen allows you to make smaller changes and continually improve on your system because it is not a one time fix or drastic change. You can continue to tweak things to make sure they are as optimized as possible for ongoing changes in your industry or life. So how do you apply the concept of continuous improvement? We will walk through two examples, one from work in this post and one personal in a follow-up post to see how Kaizen can be used to improve a current system or even create a new one.
Let’s say you manufacture and ship products – “Widgets” – an apparent commonly manufactured item from what I have read. So you make these widgets and ship them to customers all over the world. You’re a small company, so the tasks of taking orders on the phone, or over the web, packaging, and shipping is handled by whomever is not already doing something else. This has proven to not be very efficient or consistently handled as you have found out over time. Missed Widget parts, broken Widgets due to bad packaging, late shipped orders and forgetting to bill the customer or update the inventory have been costing you a lot of money. You have decided to fine tune things and figure out how to optimize the whole order to ship process.
To keep things standardized you want to have:
- Orders entered the same every time
- Widget packaging the same every time
- Shipping and tracking handled the same every time
- Billing done the same and as an integral part of the process
You have written out a set of steps that each stage of the process requires, some of which you already do and some of what you would like to implement. You post the steps at appropriate workstations and have a company meeting to announce it. Then it is back to work!?
But… You probably should start off a little different and discuss your procedural ideas with your employees first and see if they have any suggestions or see any potential issues. If that goes well, you take what you learn and update your procedures – then hand them out at a company meeting with a discussion and a re-iteration of the point and goals for the new standardized procedures.
Was it a success? Hopefully, but to be sure you need to continually monitor the new procedures and see if they are meeting your desired goals. This will include verifying if all the employees from full-time to part-time are following them. If they are, that’s great, but if not – what do you do? Tell them to get with it!? Maybe, but you definitely need to discuss why they are not following the new procedures and see if there is something that needs improvement. If it seems to be more of a refusal to change, you may want to let them know that you can replace them with one of those newer Automated Widgets you read about! If it is an actual valid reason – like some tasks are taking too long and are slowing part of the process down, then you need to re-evaluate the troublesome procedure and fine tune it.
At some point you will get things running smoothly, hopefully pretty quickly, but keep in mind that there will be a need for changes down the road, so monitoring and leaving it open to employees and even customers to make suggestions will keep you moving forward as efficiently as possible for many years to come. Sometimes you just need to re-evaluate how you have always done it!
This may seem like very logical steps, and they are, but they also follow the Kaizen process.
- Standardize the new
- Continue the cycle infinitely
Other Kaizen terms you may here in a business environment:
A Kaizen Blitz is a rapid improvement workshop designed to produce results/approaches to discrete
process issues within a few days. It is a way for teams to carry out structured, but creative problem
solving and process improvement, in a workshop environment, over a short timescale.
Lean is a methodology that eliminates waste and boosts efficiency. Kaizen means continuous improvement. Lean Kaizen helps you get rid of waste as part of the continuous improvement process.
Kaizen is a very powerful concept that can be applied to all areas of our life. Although I will likely bring it up again beyond the next post, if you would like to learn more, there have been many books written on the topic as you can see in this link:
Are you currently practicing Kaizen in your workplace?