Many of today's primary Operations Management strategies began over in Japan.
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Continuous Improvement is one such strategy, which is a key factor for any business looking to achieve long-term success.
By making incremental improvements in your processes and in your company you can make great strides in quality, productivity and employee job satisfaction. Without an effort to continuously improve, you're stuck in the mud and may experience short-term success, but long-term sustainability is not likely.
Many Japanese companies have embraced Continuous Improvement and implemented a Kaizen strategy. Kaizen means improvement in Japanese. With a Kaizen strategy, your employees are trumpeted as the key to your company.
The need to incorporate your employees in all improvement activities becomes essential and employee job-satisfaction becomes even more critical. Employees are taught improvement techniques, cross-trained and educated. They are taught the scientific method and encouraged to speak their mind. In general, utilizing your employee's intellectual capital is a major benefit that too few companies take advantage of.
One of the concepts of a Kaizen workplace is to create line stoppages when a defect or problem occurs. The idea is that a problem should be addressed and discussed as it occurs, rather than sweeping it under the rug to be forgotten.
During a line stoppage, all employees, including senior management are encouraged to take part. During these stoppages, the problem and solution brainstorming should take place. There shouldn't be a lot of finger pointing or blaming, this is a team effort to improve a problem that ultimately affects everyone.
Western business owners view these line stoppages as wasteful, when in reality it's the opposite.
The problems that Kaizen line stoppages seek to eliminate are extremely costly to the company and ultimately grow worse as they move down the line to your final customers.
By being proactive and seeking to eliminate the problem at the source, you're avoiding a lot of costs and headaches in the future. In addition, your employees will appreciate the process, as their input is being taken into account and their opinion is being listened to.
If you try to implement Kaizen line stoppages or similar techniques, you should have the support of your employees. The goal of Kaizen is to make the workplace more enjoyable, more efficient and less "hard". This means that 'grunt' work, including extra lifting, standing, walking, reaching is eliminated.
Your employees' jobs should become less straining after Kaizen has been in place for some time. You should see improvements in employee job satisfaction as a result. In addition, since defects are constantly sought after for elimination, your quality control will increase. Line stoppages can also occur when bottlenecks or WIP increases to inefficient rates. Kaizen brainstorming sessions can help solve these problems, ultimately making your company a more efficient place to work.
Read up on Kaizen and continuous improvement techniques, but you don't need a PHD to start incorporating these philosophies into your company. The basic idea is that you want to constantly be trying to improve, and you want your employees to be a critical part of this process.
You'll be amazed how much small improvements can add up!