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Diana Avram11/02/20234 min read

Kaizen: continuous improvement to boost quality and reduce costs

Looking to improve product quality, instill a culture of quality, and cut down costs – all at the same time? Kaizen can help.

The word Kaizen is Japanese for "change for the better" and it's all about continuous, incremental changes. No matter how small the improvement, the long-term rewards can be significant. But what does this change for the better imply? How can Kaizen improve quality management in manufacturing while cutting down costs? In this article we’ll answer these questions and explore how Kaizen works best when paired with a smart quality management system (QMS).

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a strategy for making ongoing, small improvements that add up to big results over time. Translated into the manufacturing context it means alignment, employee empowerment, and being in control.

Let’s get more specific. Imagine two factories. 

Factory A is run the traditional way. There’s little input from employees and decisions are made top-down. Changes happen with little discussion. People operate in silos and sometimes problems are met with blame rather than a willingness to collaborate. This can lead to inefficiency, poor quality, and low morale.

Factory B successfully uses Kaizen. Here, everyone from the shop floor to the management board aims to make things better and has a say in it. Teams regularly review how things are going and look for ways to improve. Staff are well trained and highly motivated to take control of their tasks. The outcome? Improved productivity, consistent high-quality products, and happier employees.

The core principles of Kaizen

While there are many different types of changes that contribute to Kaizen, the purpose of applying this strategy goes beyond improved productivity. The framework is based on five core principles:

  • Know your customer: This primary focus promotes better understanding of the customers’ wants and needs to ensure that the organization can create value.
  • Let it flow: Employees are trained to strive towards a zero-waste environment and reduce redundancy, thus creating more efficiency.
  • Go to Gemba (the real place): This principle highlights that operational efficiency begins at the start or source, where the work is executed and not in the meeting room. To gain the best insights and work towards improvement, employees need to also know how and why it’s important to take a step back.
  • Empowerment: Everyone is encouraged to suggest improvements. Good ideas are discussed in more depth, tested and, if effective, put into practice. Empowering people to keep adding value boosts morale, helps people take ownership and gets people more engaged in their work.
  • Transparency: Goals, feedback, and metrics need to always be visible to everyone in the organization not only to keep people focused, but also motivated and open-minded.

The last two principles also speak to the Culture of Quality mindset – that keeps employees aligned, promoting teamwork and collective problem-solving. Doing this with complete transparency accelerates business growth and reduces human error.

How Kaizen improves Quality Management

Kaizen continuous improvement is more than just a buzzword. It can be a game-changer in how manufacturers manage quality across their operations. Some of the main ways in which Kaizen contributes to bringing your Quality Management to the next level are: 

Fewer defects, reduced costs

Defects often lead to expensive recalls and upset customers. Kaizen encourages workers to get involved in spotting problems before they get worse. This approach means that defects are caught early and rectified, leading to significant cost savings.

Happier Customers, increased yield

Once your product quality starts improving through the small, incremental changes of Kaizen, you’ll also get happier customers. You’ll see fewer returns and more customer loyalty, which in turn boosts your profits.

Stronger supplier partnerships

Manufacturers often order their supplies passively. Kaizen changes this by making suppliers active partners in improving quality. For instance, a batch of subpar components will be reported immediately to the supplier, and they can address the problem on their end quickly. This helps to reduce delays and cut costs significantly.

Efficient inventory management

Inventory costs can quickly add up. Kaizen enables you to apply Just-In-Time (JIT) principles. JIT is aimed at reducing storage costs and helping you spot quality issues faster.

Better teamwork across departments

In a traditional factory, different departments often work in silos. Kaizen encourages them to not be isolated and collaborate more, leading to faster problem-solving and cost savings.

Why pair Kaizen with your QMS

Change can happen even easier when manufacturers use a smart, integrated Quality Management System (QMS) for their operations. A QMS can help implement and stick to the principles of Kaizen. How? Well, firstly, with a QMS you’ll quickly understand where you stand and where you’re going and you are able to translate overarching goals into manageable, actionable tasks.

Real-time metrics and smart alarms strictly monitor any change in quality. With well-understood, well-controlled, and well-measured processes, employees can respond faster to customer requirements and sustain progress.

A smart QMS has an audit trail for everything, all changes are visible and can be traced back into the system. A clear overview will enable a tighter grip on quality and guarantees good discipline.

By automating tasks, organizations eliminate the burden of manual work, can get rid of paper and redundant shared folders. This ensures efficiency and cuts costs, promoting less waste and increased time savings.

A smart QMS supports the Culture of Quality mindset by increasing collaboration and unity among employees and giving them the necessary tools to succeed in their tasks.

Ready to transform your organization's quality management and embrace the power of continuous improvement? Experience firsthand how AlisQI can supercharge your Kaizen initiatives – book a demo today.

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Diana Avram

Marketing & Media