Kaizen is not only a method, but also a philosophy regarding the approach of problems that includes total quality control, quality control circles, small group activities and labor relations. The difference between innovation and Kaizen is that innovation is a radical change, while Kaizen is a continuous practice to strive to do better, by making quality become a way of life.
The five founding elements of Kaizen are:
From these foundational elements, three key factors arise: the elimination of waste (muda) and inefficiency, the Kaizen 5-s framework for good housekeeping (Seiri - tidiness, Seiton - orderliness, Seiso - cleanliness, Seiketsu - standardized clean-up, Shitsuke - discipline), and standardization. A Kaizen action plan is synonymous with the philosophy of fostering continuous improvement.
So, how is Kaizen implemented in businesses?
One or more sets of Kaizen events take place using a Kaizen blitz or Kaizen event that can be used to rapidly implement work groups, improve setups, or streamline processes. The blitz or events are intense, and include training as well as a mapping of current processes and procedures and a collaborative assessment of how to reduce waste. Business process reengineering is much more difficult (technology-oriented), but is only a short-term solution as it does not address the underlying human behaviors. Kaizen is people-oriented, easier to implement, requires discipline, and becomes a daily practice. The results of conducting Kaizen blitzes or events is immediate and satisfying in that process variations are almost nil, often reaching six sigma performance levels of 6 or 7.
Starting with the team is important to achieve flow, as being able to achieve small changes and then incorporating them enterprise-wide is important to scaling Agile. Team morale continues to improve with each process cycle-time improvement, and flow continues to grow exponentially as team members move through the "zone" in a manner that is more synergistic and fluid. Often these changes can take a few iterations, with cycle-time improvements up to 25%, technical debt is reduced tenfold, defect rate reduced to zero net, and a rate of 90% of greater story acceptance per cycle.
Using a lean enterprise coach to help guide teams through a careful analysis of their existing processes can help ensure that they begin to improve by making incremental changes for the good (Kaizen). Ensuring that each member is engaged in the reduction of waste (muda) and working together to find ways to improve all areas of cycle-time throughput is an essential first step to Kaizen.