In today’s competitive landscape, companies in all industries have to find strategies to optimize their resources and differentiate themselves. To improve their work processes, services, and flows a lot of businesses are implementing the Gemba kaizen strategy within their organization. It’s an approach designed to enhance organizational processes while reducing wastage of resources. In this article, we introduce you to Gemba kaizen as well as highlight its benefits and principles.
What is Gemba?
Gemba is a Japanese term that means “the actual place”. This term is used by Japanese police when referring to a crime scene or TV reporters when referring to where they’re reporting from. Within a lean management context, gemba refers to the location where value is created. In business, the word gemba is widely used in manufacturing, where the gemba is the shop floor or the factory floor. It used in any other location, such as a construction site, a sales floor or anywhere where service providers interact directly with customers.
What is Gemba walk?
Gemba walk is an increasingly popular management technique which consists in visiting the place where work is done. It encourages managers and team leaders to gain a better insight of business processes. A Gemba walk is not an employee performance evaluation, it’s rather a collaborative approach where employees can also provide details about work progress. The purpose of it is to observe, understand and improve quality management.
Gemba walks reinforce executive commitment and improves the relationship between workers and their managers. It gives the workers from every level a chance to be more involved in decision-making. Gemba walk apps allow businesses to gather real time data since managers and employees can leave notes of problems faced during the walk using checklists, textual notes, pictures, videos, etc.
Gemba walk is an approach that allows managers and leaders to observe the actual work process, gain knowledge about it, engage with employees and explore opportunities for continuous improvement.
What is kaizen?
The word kaizen, where “kai” means change and “zen” means good, refers to “change for the better”. In lean management, kaizen typically involves measures for implementing continuous improvements. Kaizen is an approach based on self-discipline, common sense, order and economy.
The kaizen approach is often used in the manufacturing process but it can be leveraged in any sector or industry in order to improve the quality of work within an organization. Kaizen’s main goal is to improve productivity and quality of work, reduce waste, eliminate unnecessary tasks and humanize the workplace.
The “Five Ss” of Kaizen
It stands for sort and highlights the importance of being organized in the workplace. It’s a popular kaizen technique in which leaders and employees remove all unnecessary items from the work environment. This step requires the team to get rid of items that are not necessary for the business processes.
The second S means organize. All necessary items should be well organized so that workers know where to find them at all times. This practice reduces time wastage and helps employees focus on value-added tasks.
The third S means clean or shine. Employees should keep their work space neat and incorporate regular maintenance in their everyday work routine in order to increase workplace safety and keep their tools and equipment in good condition.
Seiketsu means standardize. It consists of systematizing the first three steps to make sure they are being properly practiced in the workplace everyday.
This is the fifth and last S, which means sustain. It implies becoming self-disciplined and practicing the Ss regularly. Sustaining the changes will lead to the desired results.
Gemba kaizen: The Concept Definition
The gemba kaizen approach is a key business process strategy employed by companies to enhance their manufacturing performance. It embraces the skills of a whole organization and helps understand that even small improvements can and will create added value over time. Gemba and kaizen are two strategies that are employed together to achieve continuous improvement through activities on the work floor. This concept helps organizations constantly improve and standardize their processes.
Benefits of Gemba Kaizen
Increase in productivity
Generally when we want to become more productive we tend to invest in new equipment or hire more people…. but increased productivity isn't only achieved by spending more resources. Gemba kaizen is about analyzing business processes in depth and identifying areas of improvement. Conducting gemba walks helps managers and employees find tasks or elements that consume time and energy without actually contributing to the final product. By simplifying processes and getting rid of unnecessary tasks, employees can perform their work more efficiently.
Although the Gemba kaizen approach originally emerged as a strategy to improve manufacturing and industrial processes, businesses in virtually any sector can leverage it. Nowadays, it is implemented by insurance brokers, hospitals, human resource teams, etc. Increasing productivity and reducing waste can literally be achieved everywhere, in our professional and personal lives.
Self-discipline and improved efficiency
As we know, self-discipline plays a major role in Japanese culture, in every aspect of people’s lives. The factory floor, Gemba, is where the magic is created. A well-organized Gemba (workplace) is the starting point for important kaizen methods like visual management and reducing waste. The Gemba kaizen strategy helps employees, managers, and individuals learn the importance of being self-disciplined to achieve continuous improvement and reach excellence.
One of the most important steps in the Gemba kaizen approach is visual management. This helps identify problems as quickly as possible and makes it easier to maintain standards. This approach employs a set of visual tools that provide information on working processes. It also creates a work environment that enhances communication and collaboration.
Gemba kaizen isn’t just a strategy, it’s a mindset. It must start from the head of the company and be practiced in a way that provides a leading example for employees. When deciding to work the kaizen way, good communication is essential. When kaizen is implemented, everybody comes on board to work together towards a common goal. It’s the CEO’s job to introduce this approach to the rest of the organization and to build an environment of constant improvement.
The 10 principles of Gemba Kaizen
Here are the main principles of Gemba Kaizen. They may appear simple at a first glance, but they require dedication for their implementation.
Focus on the customer
One of the most important goals of Kaizen is complete customer satisfaction.
Achieve continuous improvements
With the kaizen methodology, there is no such thing as rest. Once a task is successfully completed, you have to improve that task and then find new areas of improvement. There is always space for more improvement.
Openly acknowledge problems
It’s important to maintain open communication within the organization so that employees at every level feel comfortable raising their hand when issues such as mistakes or problems arise. It should be clear that there are no culprits and only processes to improve or problems to solve. If your organization fosters a culture of transparency, people will admit their mistakes and weaknesses and ask for support when needed.
The characteristic features of Kaizen are sharing, inter-functional communication, and visible leadership.
Create work teams
Teamwork plays a very important role because teams constitute the building blocks of the corporate structure within Kaizen organizations.
Manage projects through cross functional teams
When working on projects within the organization, it’s important to make sure that all stakeholders participate. External resources to the company such as suppliers and clients should also be involved in order to analyze all the different points of view and get a 360 view on business processes.
Encourage appropriate relationship processes
Kaizen organizations are aware that if they invest in training their people in terms of interpersonal skills, especially in managers and leaders who are responsible for the harmony of the company, they will greatly improve processes and employee morale as well as achieve their financial goals.
This is a very important element for each of the members of a Kaizen organization, since self-discipline allows individuals to better adapt to situations that arise in daily life and find well-being and comfort through the affirmation of their internal strength.
Keep employees informed
It’s important to keep employees informed about the company’s mission, values, products, performance, personnel, company plans, etc.
Encourage employee development
Empowerment is key. Training the members of a company to acquire needed skills, stimulating them and giving them responsibility in decision-making allows people to acquire new knowledge and thus become more efficient.