Office Kaizen

In Japanese, 改善 or Kaizen means improvement. In English, people often use the term when referring to the continuous improvement process. At Toyota related companies, suggesting and implementing kaizen on a regular basis is part of the system.

In other words, it is standardized.

Office kaizen is essential to cost saving. Staff members are often asked to fill out two kaizen suggestion forms per month as part of their monthly reporting requirements. Managers check the employees` suggestions. It is then management`s responsibility to implement the suggestions or explain why they cannot be implemented. This managerial responsibility is also standardized.

"It works because requirements and accountability are built into the system - For both staff and managers." says Angela Corriero, "Employees can get quickly de-motivated and stop making kaizen suggestions if they feel they`re ideas are not being heard or respected."

Overheard in the office
"Kaizen implementation can be a hassle for me as a team leader. It requires extra effort. But, at the end of the day, it makes work more efficient for my staff and productivity goes up. We are continually cost saving." Team Leader, Toyota supplier, Japan.

Office Kaizen Implementation

Step 1
Implement a 5s Kaizen Program
A 5s office system is mandatory for the elimination of waste, workplace efficiency and cost saving. "It is the foundation of our success," says a Toyota supplier staff member. Implement 5s Kaizen standards as part of your lean office strategy.

For 5s Principles for the Office E-Guide, click here.

For an excellent 5s implementation example, click here.

Step 2
Implement a standardized office kaizen system - a Creative Suggestion System that is focused on the elimination of waste.

Some people may say that there is not a single item of work which is wasted. But the more we think about it, the more we become aware of many types of work which is unnecessary. Things change. In the past, there may have been a reason to do a particular job, but now there is no real reason.

An excerpt from Total Quality Control Management by Masao Nemoto, fmr Managing Director, Toyota Motor Corporation:

An example of wasted work:
An employee in an office had the responsibility to transcribe the contents of payment vouchers and receiving slips into a notebook. The worker said "I inherited this work from my predecessor. I have been on this job for two years and no one has ever asked to see the notebook. If I stop doing this work, I can save 20 hours each month." In suggesting that this work be eliminated, she also mentioned that all the chits were kept in the document room, and any necessary information could be obtained within 30 minutes. If the work had not been utilized for two years, there was certainly no justification for the continuation, especially when there was another way of finding the required information.

In most administrative divisions seldom does a division manager or section chief know how any one of his subordinates handles his day to day work. Ask a question to a division manager: "Can you find any waste in the routine work performed by your administrative employees?" The answer you receive is often "Well I haven`t really looked into the work of admin staff. I don`t know." Therefore it is important to ask each and every one of the workers to think about his about his or her own work routine. The manager`s function is to accept suggestions, coordinate them and see to that these kaizen suggestions are implemented. Small group activities, such as QC circles and QC groups can be effective at fostering employees` willingness for participate in office kaizen activities.

Regarding Office Kaizen, ask the following questions:

  • Is there any work that is being done which is really not necessary?
  • Can the work procedure be simplified?
  • Is there a better way of doing it?
  • What will happen if we change or adjust our tools?

"Management must then take the next logical step and bunch together the hours saved to make it possible for the division to withdraw a worker. To withdraw workers and do it thoroughly is one of the characteristics of the Toyota production system." Masao Nemoto

The Creative Suggestion System

It is important for each worker to submit a suggestion showing how his own work and the group`s work can be improved.
In order to make this happen, it is vital to establish an atmosphere which is conducive to receiving suggestions. The next important consideration is for a superior to form the habit of listening to every suggestion presented to him. To be heard is more imporatant to employees than to receive a $10 or $20 award for kaizen suggestions.

More information and a downloadable package on creative suggestion systems is coming soon.

For lean office strategies, click here.

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