What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is one of the key drivers of continuous improvement in the lean enterprise. Kaizen is an improvement philosophy which gets its name from the Japanese word meaning “change for better”.

Kaizen drives improvement by facilitating the deconstruction of processes and their reassembly in an improved way. Kaizen is often misunderstood to only refer to broad sweeping changes to or the upheaval of current systems. While that could certainly be the result of kaizen, in all cases, kaizen only refers to simply improving existing systems regardless of how or to what extent.

The Lean Enterprise

Image 2: The lean enterprise

The 3 Gens
Before we can effectively execute kaizen, we must firmly understand the 3 gens or the 3 actuals as some call them.

Every Kaizen begins by going to the genba. The genba (also called gemba) is simply the actual place where the work is completed. This might be a factory floor, a warehouse, a hospital emergency room, or even a law office. You will have a higher success rate with kaizen if you spend time at the genba rather than drafting convoluted plans in an isolated boardroom.

Thus, rather than reviewing process diagrams it’s best to see the genbetsu or actual parts. Genbetsu therefore may refer to components of a machine, the steps of a process, or a combination of both. The key is to see the actual subject we wish to improve, rather than an abstract. There’s no better learning than witnessing the process firsthand!

The final gen is genjitsu, or the actual facts. Our goal is to know the unbiased truth about the work and the workplace. Genjitsu gives a clear picture of what’s actually happening by qualifying and quantifying what words like “rarely” or “always” actually mean.

Often, when confronted with facts, we begin to glimpse what the actual root cause of the problem is. We may even realize how much greater or smaller in scope or affect the problem really is. Ultimately, being armed with hard facts makes it much easier to convince people of necessary changes.

Earn the Right to Enter the Kitchen
When we decide to do kaizen in the workplace, there is a common expression that is often used; “earn the right to enter the kitchen”. This saying simply reminds us that just as we would never visit someone’s house for the first time and immediately begin moving freely from room to room without consent, we can’t simply barge into someone else’s work area and begin interrogating them or making changes. When doing kaizen, we must always earn the right to evaluate the 3 gens by first displaying respect and developing trust.