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What is Kaizen Teian and Continuous Improvement ?

The Origins of Intrapreneurship

Posted on September 23, 2013

While intrapreneurship may be a relatively new concept, it has actually been around for a while. From suggestion boxes to company-wide inclusion programs, successful organizations have looked inward for strategic direction for years.

One version of employee suggestion programs is found in LEAN manufacturing. It's called Kaizen.

What is Kaizen Teian?

Kaizen is Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better” while, teian is simply translated to “Suggestion”. Together they describe a philosophy which dictates that small, incremental changes, routinely applied and sustained over a long period of time, result in significant benefits for a business.  

This isn’t a new concept, but to many, a new term. The core value of Kaizen teian, much like intrapreneurship, stresses active involvement from all employees. From CEOs to assembly line workers, each member's role in facilitating change and growth is necessary. 

On a factory floor for example, this means wasted movement. Setting up tool stations so that everything is within arm's reach is an easy way of cutting out wasted steps, and over time, this small change means increased productivity.

This graphic gives you a brief overview of what the Kaizen workflow looks like.

kaizen teian

How does it work?

Kaizen can be broken down into three simple steps:

Phase 1: Planning and Preparation.

The first challenge is to identify an area for improvement.  This requires understanding the business and uncovering an area where significant bottlenecks or delays occur. Employee involvement is key as they more clearly understand areas of conflict or "mess" within the organization. Throughout the process, continuously involve workers from the targeted administrative or production area to uncover issues and supplement the team with outside perspectives.  

A factory looking to increase production speed and wonders where their workers are losing time or money. Workers could explain that drill bits used in production break bi-weekly and time is lost replacing the broken equipment. From here, the company can investigate causes and solutions while exploring alternatives.

Toyota famously adopted a kaizen philosophy and developed a practice of asking “Why” five times to uncover the root cause of a problem.

Phase 2: Implementation

Before being implemented, participants must work to develop a clear understanding of the current state to establish a clear and consistent understanding of goals. This is where Toyota’s “5 Whys” are beneficial. Ask the right questions, then assess areas of improvement and make changes.  

After asking the “5 Whys,” our hypothetical factory discovered that the cause of their drill bit destruction is due to the poor quality of current bits. This may lead them to implement a solution by researching and replacing drill bits with a stronger, more durable version.

Phase 3: Follow-up

Follow up serves as way of testing hypothetical solutions and monitoring their success.  Using metrics routinely tracks new performance, measuring gains, to ensure that improvements are sustained, and not just temporary.  Organizations are able to achieve continuous improvement in targeted activities and processes while learning from these new developments.

For our factory, this means monitoring the lifespan of the replacement drill bits.  By tracking changes in productivity, time, and money saved, focus can be redirected towards continuing alternative improvements on the factory floor.

Other Kaizen Success Stories

Group Health

Providers and health plans, in addition to regulations by state governments, and increased federal scrutiny under the Affordable Care Act make product development in health care a complex process.  Tolerances for error are small, and all aspects of products must be precisely defined.

The Seattle-based integrated health plan and healthcare provider Group Health wanted to adopt a process that would reduce development time while increasing stakeholder involvement and growth.

Initially, their development methodology had broken down production into phases, passing the product sequentially area to another. This meant that as deficiencies were found, products were frequently sent back and forth, delaying results and stalling innovation.

Using a kaizen approach, Group Health instead implemented a 3P process, short for “production preparation process.” This started a series of cross-functional teams who together could rapidly brainstorm ideas for improvement.

By encouraging workers to think without boundaries, ideas were created more quickly and refined along the way.  From simple fixes to transformative changes, they can now explore inexpensive prototypes for dealing with a problem, and then eliminate failures easily. By creating a fluid process of communication Group Health was able to cut their development time by 1/3. It also increased stakeholder involvement and emboldened development teams to broaden their horizons.

Key Takeaways

In America, we’ve combined the mentality of paying your employee’s for their ideas with the Japanese notion of improving the way we work for sake of success. Overarching internal improvement and feedback processes of the kaizen philosophy translate into company-wide mechanisms for intrapreneurship.  Involving team members each step along the way and improving from suggestions builds a stronger, more connected, and efficient business.

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