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Why does Lean & Kaizen not work in my business?

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Cristyn Narciso
Cristyn Narciso
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I found this course very informative and easy to understand. I am just getting started in working with supply chains/manufacturing and enjoyed this free course.
Ankit Kumar
Ankit Kumar
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Very basic but yet an effective course. An easy explanation of different processes of a Supply Chain. The mentor has explained everything through pictures and flow charts which made it easy to understand. He has also provided the slides used in the course for later reference. Good for anyone who is new to the Supply Cain. I really wish him to create a more detailed and advanced course.
Laverne Angela Gadiah
Laverne Angela Gadiah
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Thank you for a very clear, easy to follow and concise course. It was informative and definitely on point.
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It’s common knowledge that our society began this global transition from agriculture and handcraft-oriented economies to economies oriented on mechanized manufacturing with The Industrial Revolution back in the eighteenth century. That was especially vivid in the textile industry, agriculture, and glass factories.

All these changes came along with different types of problems that the companies haven’t dealt with in the past, that is why Lean and Kaizen entered the game of business. Since then, those methodologies facilitated improving manufacturing and the management processes beyond our recognition. Even so, there are cases when leam seems not to be applicable. But before talking about why it’s happening let’s describe what lean is exactly.

What is lean?

The lean methodology was created by Toyota in 1970 and focuses on manufacturing and management.  Some would say it is a way of thinking, a culture in an organization of any type. Its purpose is to improve the performance in terms of productivity, quality, time reduction, and costs. In other words, lean focuses on providing quality products or services at the lowest possible cost of production.

Lean also focuses on the elimination of unnecessary elements that do not add value to the process, in other words, waste, such as:

  • Overproduction
  • Inventory 
  • Waiting time
  • Transport
  • Over-processing
  • Movements
  • Defects

This methodology lays on the principle of continuous improvement. It not only aims at eliminating the sources of inefficiency but also works for the company to get better results.

Just like other concepts and techniques, this methodology has limits but if properly applied it can make all the difference between a struggling company and a successful company.

What is Kaizen?

On the other hand, we have the principle of Kaizen. It was introduced for the first time in the book  ‘Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success’ (McGraw Hill) and was recognized as one of the most important strategy concepts in organizations.

Kaizen refers to improvement in personal and professional life. The different companies that have introduced this approach often have superior results compared to the companies which haven’t..

The Kaizen approach has 5 principles:

  1. Know your customer
  2. Let it flow
  3. Go to Gemba
  4. Empower people 
  5. Be transparent

The main focus of Kaizen is continuous improvement, which centers on small changes to increment the impact over time. Kaizen is introduced in organizations as a philosophy instead of a methodology. The changes start with the mindset and values of the people in the company, then proceed with the changes in the processes, thus making the general activities of the company transform in an easier way.

How do Lean and Kaizen work together?

Any change can be difficult, especially when more than one person is involved. One way to make the transition from one thing to another is to start by making small changes and preparing the people involved instead of changing all in one day without any notice. In other words, we can say we used the lean and Kaizen principles and methodologies to implement changes and adjustments in organizations in the easiest and most efficient way.

The real transformation in companies and organizations began when lean methodology connected with the Kaizen philosophy.

As we mentioned before, lean focuses on the elimination of waste. Meanwhile, Kaizen focuses on continuous improvement. By combining these two principles, any company can achieve its goals and at the same time improve its processes, efficiency,  quality, and customer relationship.

Okay so, these two principles separately are excellent methodologies to implement in companies and work perfectly together for the improvement of strategies and processes. But for some businesses, this seems not to work at all.

Why are some companies failing in the implementation of Lean and Kaizen principles?

Plenty of studies have been made in an attempt to reveal the main reasons why companies fail in their Lean and Kaizen projects. Depending on a source up to 90% of companies in the end are unable to adopt them fully or partially. To sum up the wide array of factors when your lean journey may go wrong, I’ve assembled four main causes of it happening: the lack of direction and vision followed by the lack of time assigned, lack of resources, lack of perseverance, and last but not least the lack of compromise for part of the employees.

To understand a little bit more we will analyze each situation.

  1. Lack of direction and vision in running the projects

The importance of sharing the vision and direction of the company with all employees is the key factor in achieving success or not. In order to accomplish a project, a plan, or a strategy it is important that each part of the system share a common goal to work together as a team, and this way the results will be positive.

  1.  Lack of time allocated for the projects

Companies had multiple projects and launches at the same time and sometimes they did not correctly estimate the time needed to complete each project. Taking into consideration all the things that are happening in the company at the moment is essential to succeed in the Lean and Kaizen implementation.

  1. Lack of resources

To achieve the Lean and Kaizen transformation it is important that all the resources of the company are available and involved in the implementation. Companies tend to forget this and only select a few of the resources in this project causing its failure. 

  1.  Lack of perseverance

Nowadays people are used to quick and fast results. The focus of attention is becoming shorter and shorter even more with the passing of the days and this can be reflected in the innovation of technology as in social media. For instance, more and more people do not watch a video if it lasts more than 1 or 2 minutes and this has a negative effect on their perseverance. 

Companies normally have short and long-term projects and this lack of perseverance has made the stress on short-term projects a lot stronger leaving long-term ones unattended. But it is important to connect all the short projects with a long-term common goal. When a company doesn’t follow this order, valuable resources and time can be lost.

  1.  Lack of adherence from employees of the company

When the culture and values of the company are not involved in the implementation it almost guarantees its failure. As we mentioned before, Kaizen is a state of mind more than just a method so it is important to share the compromise among all the employees in the company. 

To perform the correct implementation of Lean and Kaizen in your business the company should be considered as a whole, this way it may be easier to achieve the wanted changes.

Have you already optimized your business processes for maximum efficiency? Have a look at our blog for news and insights on Lean Manufacturing, Industrial Engineering, and Supply Chain & Operations Management.


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