How to use tools such as kaizen to eliminate waste
Now, how can something like kaizen help a company (or anyone) to eliminate waste. Kaizen is a Japanese term for the slow elimination of waste through tiny daily improvements. It's really quite a brilliant idea. The idea is that it's pretty intimidating to try to do a big job all at once. You think, boy we're wasting a lot of paper here and so you call everyone together and say: From now on I want you wall to wear white t-shirts everyday. You'll write all your notes and things on your t-shirts, then wash them at the end of the day and start over. That way we won't waste so much paper.
Of course, it's hard to imagine any manager making so drastic and stupid a decision, but you get the picture. It's impossible for a confirmed coffee drinker to quite overnight. A smoker can't just stop - it would kill him. And a company can't expect to dramatically alter a wasteful practice immediately without suffering a lot of consequences. In the long run, stopping bad or wasteful behavior immediately may end up doing more harm than good.
The idea of kaizen, then, is that every day you do some small thing that leads you to a larger goal. Let's say that you want to keep your living room clean. You're a big book reader, your living room's always covered in books, papers, magazines, you name it. It's this big spread of garbage from tip to top and it's driving you crazy and it's driving your wife crazy. Now, cleaning up a living room might not seem like a very big deal. And it isn't a big deal, in the whole scheme of things. And it might not be that difficult for a fellow to spend an hour cleaning it. The difficult thing is to come to the point where he doesn't mess it right back up again. Kaizen says, in effect, don't worry about cleaning up all those books at once. Just clean up the books in the southwest corner. Do that every day. Every day you've got to think to yourself: that southwest corner: I've got to keep that clean and tidy. Well, after a while this will become a habit. Then you move to the southeast corner, and so on.
So, if you want implement kaizen into your company, pick an area in which you're wasting a lot of time, talent, money, paper products, whatever. And then began making these tiny, barely noticeable change. Do a little thing every day that changes some aspect of your wasteful habits; it might not even be noticeable; it might even feel laughable; but do it every day, day after day, until it's a habit. Then start on something else. Repeat the process. Start on something else. And so forth. And guess what? There's no telling when, but eventually you'll have eliminated that particular problem altogether.
Another great thing about kaizen is that lots of different people can be involved, not just you. Thus, if there are several areas in which your company is wasting this or that, you can have the employees working in that area all practicing kaizen for themselves. This little lovely process could be going on all over your company. It could be going on in whole areas, such as the marketing department, and it could be going on in offices within the marketing department. It could be going on in your office. If your office is a pigsty, you could just start here and there trying to patch things up.
This is the general principle of kaizen. Take things one step at a time, and make sure they're little steps. Bring the company together, explain it. Kaizen is one of those things that fills people up with hope. Anyone can do one tiny thing a day; brush their teeth; do the dishes; whatever it is. After they brush their teeth they can go around with stink clouds rising from them, stink clouds so deadly that birds fall from the sky as they pass and babies cry out, their innocence lost. But even in all that stink they're feeling pretty good because hey, brushed my teeth today. And who knows? Maybe in a year the birds will be sitting on their shoulders and the babies will be begging to be trundled on their laps. Apply kaizen to your business and you should see powerful results - but at some point in time.