From manufacturing processes and time management techniques to communication methods and visual cues, there’s always room for improvement in every industrial facility. But, employees may resist change, and new, large-scale updates to processes can take time to catch on. This is where incremental strategies and communication tools like floor marking tape and signage can be important in implementation. One method that many manufacturing locations use to great success is Kaizen.

What Is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a continuous improvement strategy used in manufacturing and industrial locations. The Japanese term means “change for the better,” which the method aims to do through a series of incremental improvements. When used as part of the 5S methodology, Kaizen is a powerful system that builds good habits and strong processes. Tools that support the Kaizen process include:

  • Audits and safety reports
  • Floor marking tape and clear signage for visual communication
  • Training for all employees, not just new hires
  • Value stream mapping or other analytical tools

What Is the Difference Between Kaizen and 5S?

Kaizen and 5S have the same goals: To increase organization and productivity within industrial and manufacturing facilities using a variety of processes and tools. While the Kaizen and 5S are similar and can be used together, there are key differences. Kaizen focuses on improving practices facility-wide, while 5S targets organization methods and visual communication strategies. Both improve efficiency, and the methods can be used together or separately.

Are Kaizen and Lean the Same?

Kaizen and Lean are also similar, but different: Lean manufacturing principles reduce waste and improve processes, and Kaizen promotes continuous improvement which can inform and support Lean methods.

Which Method Is Best for Your Facility?

Each facility is different. No two production lines or warehouses have the same needs, so no method is considered ideal. To determine if Kaizen, 5S, or Lean is the best for your facility, consider these questions:

  • Do you need to identify or improve processes? Kaizen may be the best place to start.
  • Is disorganization your priority? Consider starting by implementing 5S methods to declutter, organize, and improve overall communication.
  • Have you implemented 5S, but still desire improvement? Add Kaizen to your methodology.
  • Are you looking to reduce waste within manufacturing procedures? Introducing Lean may be an ideal solution.
  • Are you looking to implement small-scale changes rather than completely reorganize your facility or processes? Kaizen works perfectly for small, incremental changes.

What Is a Kaizen Event?

While a Kaizen strategy is an ongoing effort, Kaizen events are coordinated to tackle one specific area for improvement. Kaizen events may be used for a layout update such as moving physical machines or workstations or by applying floor marking tape to adjust processes and improve communication. Kaizen events are also used to provide targeted training, which can focus on safety, reducing waste, updated procedures, or improve skills. A Kaizen event ends when the intended procedure, change, or training has been completed—usually within three to five days.

How to Implement Kaizen

Implementing Kaizen may look different from facility to facility, but one method that may inform implementation is the PDCA Cycle. This procedure follows four basic steps: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

The Plan Do Check Act (PCDA) Cycle depicted as an arrow flow chart

Plan: Small, incremental changes are the key to implementing Kaizen in your facility. Too many changes, all at once, may deter employees from sticking to the new procedures either due to confusion or resistance. So, plan your changes to best support the results you wish to see. This may involve looking at safety audits to determine priority level, evaluating visual cues such as directional floor markings or signage to note manufacturing procedures, or reviewing training materials to ensure they’re up-to-date. Gemba walks can be used to pinpoint waste and areas that need improvement while implementing and evaluating Kaizen processes.

Do: While implementing Kaizen, work toward your goals with incremental changes. If you’re looking to eliminate waste—either physical materials or time—apply changes that specifically focus on the issues you’ve discovered in your “Plan” phase. This may mean targeting over-production, time-consuming production methods, lacking inventory management systems, or employee training opportunities. Organized workspaces can reduce time spent on a task because the employees don’t need to search for the appropriate tools. If material waste has been a concern, pair Kaizen and Lean methods to streamline and reduce unnecessary loss.

Check: Feedback is an important part of Kaizen. Requesting feedback gives you insight from all levels. Not all feedback is useful, but when you consider opinions from everyone—including management and employees on the production floor—you may find new processes or areas that may be lacking.

Act: Standardized processes are important to ensure everyone understands the requirements. Training, site-wide floor markings, clear signage, and logically organized spaces ensure every employee knows the requirements, can spot hazards, or has the tools necessary to make important decisions—quickly, when necessary. When implementing Kaizen or any organizational method, standardizing improves safety, reduces confusion, and earns employee buy-in.

Implementing Kaizen—either alone, or as part of Lean and 5S methodology—can improve overall organization and productivity within the facility. Because it’s a method build on incremental change, Kaizen may provide results where large-scale chances could not. For more information on continuous improvement, explore our Resource Center.