Like its name implies, Quick and Easy Kaizen is one of the easiest ways to get started in having all of your employees implement continuous incremental improvement. It’s also a key to unleashing the creativity of your employees.

Like its name implies, Quick and Easy Kaizen is one of the easiest ways to get started in having all of your employees implement continuous incremental improvement. Norman Bodek, one of our Gang of Seven co-bloggers for this week, co-authored (along with bunji Tozawa) a marvelous book on this variant of kaizen, entitled The Idea Generator: Quick & Easy Kaizen. In it, they explain what Quick and Easy Kaizen is, and how to put it into practice into your work environment:

“Quick and Easy Kaizen is a simple but powerful system designed to inspire all employees to generate or offer new improvement ideas on a continuous basis.  It enables them to make their own jobs easier, and to take the initiative to make small changes that will help satisfy customers, reduce costs, improve quality and safety, and also to reduce the time it takes to deliver products and services to your customers.  Most importantly, it focuses on implementing ideas, not on suggesting ideas for others to do something.”

Contrast this quote with the Western way of doing things. First, many organizations do not even have a system for managing ideas. Those that do may only have a suggestion box, where an employee places his or her idea and may never hear anything about it again.

The empowerment aspect of quick and easy kaizen is also worthy of mention. It relies on each employee’s inherent creativity to identify, quickly implement, document and share their kaizens with others. Many American workers are anything but empowered; most have to check with their bosses before doing anything. Here’s what Bodek and Tozawa have to say about it:

“In truth, people have lots of very good ideas on how to improve their own work.  The problem is that they are hardly ever asked further ideas, and most companies do not have a system to encourage their employees to develop, install, manage and sustain those ideas. creativity is the only means by which workers can truly be involved in their company’s success.”

Some years ago, I did marketing public relations for Toyota Industrial Equipment and for Komatsu’s construction equipment division. Although they may not have called it kaizen at the time, both companies were already committed to continuous, incremental improvement. I came to learn that its real power was the compounding effect of these small improvements which, over time, delivered some truly remarkable results.

I also saw firsthand how important employee empowerment is to Japanese companies. In the early 1990s, I attended the grand opening of Toyota’s new forklift production facility in Columbus, Indiana. I still remember hearing about their policy that any employee could stop the production line to solve a quality problem – an amazing concept at that time. And I recall how, during the opening ceremonies, every work team and department got the opportunity to parade across the stage, to the applause of the audience. I have never seen a more excited group of workers in my life!

One of the most significant advantages of Quick and Easy Kaizen is that it doesn’t take a lot of resources to implement. It is a mindset, which team leaders can easily communicate to the workers who report to them. It also has a valuable competitive advantage: you can implement many incremental changes without tipping your hand to your competitors as to what is making you more competitive. All they see is the cumulative effect of your kaizen, but they probably have no idea how you accomplished it.

Here’s a brief roundup of what my coblogging compatriots are writing about today, on the topic of Quick and Easy Kaizen:

Norman Bodek provides an overview of Quick and Easy Kaizen, and explains its early foundations and priciples (covering some details that aren’t even explained in his book).

Bill Waddell shares a story about Quick and Easy Kaizen that is summarized from Norman’s book. Specifically, he explains how Taichi Ohno at Toyota gave his team an unreasonable demand for conversion of a warehouse into a machine shop, coupled with a lack of direction. This stretch goal surprisingly ignited an amazing amount of creativity that was crucial to accomplishing it. Interesting stuff about the power of stretch goals, creativity and empowerment!

Joe Ely focuses on the process of writing down your kaizens, a key component of the Quick and Easy Kaizen process. He acknowledges that this is hard for the average employee to do, but then outlines a list of the top 10 reasons why they should write down their small, local improvements.

Marc Graban references a column by Doron Levin at on the topic of overproduction – a significant source of waste that kaizen aims to reduce or eliminate. As you might expect, most of these forms of waste have to do with the manufacturing process itself. But the one that caught my eye was this one: “Not fully utilizing people’s talent.” Great point! Unfortunately I would guess that many western organizations don’t even recognize this as a source of waste, much less something they should make plans to reduce or eliminate!

Jon Miller explains how demonstrating respect for people is the key to making Quick and Easy Kaizen work, and points out that company leaders need to think about how to link kaizen to the overall strategies and objectives of the business.

Tomorrow will be the final day of our kaizen coblogging initiative, and the topic will be kaizen blitz, a focused, short-term project to improve a  process.