Build an Agile Kaizen strategy and methodology with 20 keys to workplace improvement

Build a Kaizen strategy and methodology with 20 keys to workplace improvement

Creating a Kaizen strategy in modern Agile organizations is entirely possible with Professor Iwao Kobayashi’s 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement.

In the article, we present a detailed description of each Kaizen key with examples and explanations that can be used to implement and embed a real strategy. Many people in the Agile management community believe that this topic is outdated and was valid only for manufacturing companies in Japan in the last century. However, we will show you that this is not the case.

Agile Kaizen strategy using 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement by Iwao Kobayashi

Reference: 20 Kaizen keys to workplace improvement

1. Clean and tidy. Everywhere and all the time.

Introducing and maintaining order and a good view of all workplaces gives a friendly vision. Removing everything unnecessary, organizing everything to look clean and nice pleases the eye not only of the employee but also the client/business partner. There is a popular proverb: “On clothes, they welcome, on the mind they send”. The friendly and beautiful vision inspires respect in the client and creates coziness for the employee. Messy desks; glued and stuck stickers, labels; broken furniture and interior; worn surfaces; dust – for example.
All teams are involved in this process.
Probable problems – some of the employees to oppose the process or to like the clutter and dirt.

2. Management style with commitment and participation. Work with all people to engage their minds and hearts, both in the work and in their hands.

The acquaintance of absolutely all employees with the goals and strategy of the company is mandatory. When people are clearly, in detail, and specifically informed about what needs to be achieved, when they are clear about the company’s goals, they will have a good understanding of their specific activities and participation. Each employee will know what to contribute and can even give ideas and suggestions to help deal with problems, eliminate unnecessary processes, optimize the work environment and activities. Creativity in each person should be encouraged because the energy of the artist inspires not only him but also the whole team. Reference:

Everyone is involved in this process – from the managers who play a leading role to the last employee.

Probable problems – managers do not want to expose the goals and objectives of the company (do not want to be disclosed to any employee); managers should not have a clear statement and correct formulation of goals and objectives; managers do not know how to inspire their teams; employees may not understand the goals and objectives; employees do not feel motivated and committed to their performance; to have difficult interpersonal relationships – between managers, between managers and teams and within the teams themselves.

3. Teamwork. Focus on teamwork to involve everyone in enthusiastic improvements.

Organizing people into smaller groups (teams) of up to 10 people will distribute the tasks so that they can be better understood and performed more correctly and faster. This improves communication between people. The formation of smaller groups also channels the communication of managers with them. If a problem occurs, it can be removed and resolved more quickly. Each group must know very well its specific task and goal, the deadlines for its implementation. The idea of ​​everyone in the team is very important. Each of these must be tested in practical application, and this can lead to significant improvements in processes and results. Reference: Modern Kaizen principles and keys to workforce 2020

Absolutely all employees participate in the process.

Probable problems – managers do not want to form smaller teams (teams); to include in one team people who do not like each other; one of the team to try to take the lead, displacing the already determined leader; the designated leaders of each team do not have real leadership skills and qualities; leaders cannot support people, accept their ideas and weed out the benefits of the chaff; employees do not feel motivated; to have difficult interpersonal relationships – between managers, between managers and team leaders and within the teams themselves.

4. Technology and competitive engineering. Understanding and using methods such as Concurrent Engineering and Taguchi methods.

The goal is to increase quality while reducing costs. Products and services must be designed in such a way as to avoid interference from influences which will be difficult and costly to remove afterward. As well as to minimize costs and increase quality at times. The idea is to think as predictably as possible. Reference: What is Kaizen methodology,, 2020

Example: The insurance company. However, insurance is not quoted well on the market. It is difficult to find clients. An analysis shows that:

The amount of damages offered by the company does not correspond to what the customer is looking for.
Solution – we study the market and the competition well. We enter more specific target groups – practicing sports with high adrenaline and risk, for example, if this is not offered or offered by a few competitors.
The result – we expand the range of services and attract more customers.

There are few people working in the call center who cannot process the received requests from clients. Thus, customers remain unserved and unsatisfied.
Solution – after researching the market and technology in this area, we buy the most suitable call system for us, which will automate the processes, maintain histories and channel, screen and prioritize incoming calls or emails.
The result – we shorten the service time, increase the number of communications, review the history, and bring to the fore the most frequently asked questions or complaints from customers to improve their work. Reference: The Kaizen 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement Explained with examples Agile Programming, ISSN 2652-5925, 2020

Each agent operates in a separate system (its own small database), which has no connection to a common database. There are three employees who put all the information in the common database. This makes the process more expensive and time-consuming. It is not possible to see whether there are recurring situations, the individual pieces of information slowly correspond to each other.
Solution – we cut all three employees. We migrate small databases to the common database, implement software that takes over and manages the database automatically, and maintains a connection between all brokers and clients.
The result – we save money on monthly salaries, reduce time, and automate the process of working with clients.

Some brokers do not cover the required level of professionalism and work with clients.

Solution – conducting more frequent training, as brokers can be grouped according to their level of training or the qualities we need to improve
The result – we improve the service and direct communication with the client, which leads to greater satisfaction in him, which means that he will remain our client for years to come, as well as word of mouth.

We have not researched what customers prefer in detail.

Solution – Apply marketing research to customer preferences in detail (for example – the color based on our site, where our basic information on packages and services is presented, strains the eyes and the client can not keep reading for a long time. This prevents him from reading and from our services). The working hours of the offices are inconvenient for the clients. There are no online services that would be used by some customers.
The result – we change the color of the site, we change the working hours so as to cover the maximum convenience for the client; we introduce online services.

There are no loyalty programs.
Solution – we introduce bonuses and discounts for long-term customers, we provide a bonus to each new customer.
The result – we win long-term customers and increase the influx of new ones.

There is no unit that monitors the competitive market and the new situations occurring in people’s lives.
Solution – we create a small team of 2-3 people to monitor the competition on a daily basis, to analyze daily situations that the company can benefit from, and to generate ideas.
Solution – maintaining constant flexibility and creating a company that is up to date with the market and time.

The marketing, software, quality control, and customer relations teams, as well as the managers, take part.
The probable problem we may encounter is the reluctance of employees to accept innovations or managers to implement them.

We have introduced super attractive offers to new areas for finding clients, but our clients do not know about it.
Solution – we start a massive advertising campaign with a focus on the target group we are aiming for.

The result – finds new territory with clients.
Managers and the Marketing and Advertising team take part.
Difficulties – managers do not understand the importance of advertising, not to allocate a budget for it. The marketing and advertising team should be weak and unprofessional.

5. Reduced inventory and lead time. Coping overproduction and reducing costs and deadlines.

This key is related to the previous ones – reduction of staff, where it is redundant. Implementation of automation, shortening the production time from the smallest elements of the product, implementation of know-how. Rational use of energy and materials. With less material and labor to achieve higher results. If we use longer time to produce the smallest structural unit, shorten it. Going from the detail, we achieve an effect on the whole.

Example – Client contracts are 15 pages long. If the text is reformatted, the font is reduced, unnecessary blank spaces between paragraphs are avoided or it is printed on a page of 2 columns, observing the readability, we save on paper, printer ink, and printer depreciation, as well as printing time and customer service. The most important clauses can be bolted to make it easier for the customer to familiarize themselves with the contract – this also improves service time.

All teams take part.
Difficulties – managers to resist proposals or any of them. As well as a team or teams not wanting to accept introductions.

6. Reducing the time for changing dies and machines for more flexible work.

(Logically, in processes that do not involve machines and tools, you can focus on reducing technological time for your operations)

Example – A client’s file in the database stands year after year. To track what he preferred each year, we need to go into a few different tables. Some of the data cannot be moved/copied. That’s why we need to combine everything for a given client under one identifier. This reduces the technological time for its research, selection of proposals for it, and its maintenance. Reference: Transparency in Scrum teams and Agile organizations, (Scrum Time) ISSN 2652-5445 Vol 1, 2020

Example – a printer in an office is two meters from the employee’s workplace. For each document, he gets up, walks, and returns. Mounting the printer next to the employee will shorten the technological time.
The software team, the technical team, the managers take part.
Difficulties – the managers do not want to implement new software solutions, the offices do not have a suitable place for reorganization.

7. Continuous improvement of the workplace. Creating improvement as a way of life, continuous improvement of work, and a better workplace.

The key is related to previous keys. Creating a technological workplace, implementing improvements in product quality and production time, and continuous monitoring and maintenance of these processes. Creating comfort and coziness in the workplace (example – maintaining fresh tones in the interior; more light or coolness and warmth, if necessary).

Participation – all teams, support department.
Problems – lack of feedback from teams to managers. As well as managers do not consider this an important part of the job.

8. Zero monitoring. Build systems that avoid the need for constant human monitoring. Instead, create a team that works to maintain and improve your technology.

The key also has a connection to previous keys. When the goals in front of each team are set clearly, understandably, and concretely, when they are explained correctly and each member of the team knows exactly what is expected and what exactly he should do in sync with the overall goal or task, then people can self-organize and each to follow their own tasks.

People should be motivated to do this, as well as feel at ease and free to give suggestions and ideas in addition to development and improvement. The need for constant control over the team disappears.

Participates in managers at all levels and all teams.
Problem – managers do not understand the benefits of this key, some of them fail to motivate people to self-government; team member to take the initiative to present himself as a leader; team members not to show self-organization (Typical of Scrum teams).

9. Creating interconnected cells, where flow and withdrawal are the main agenda. We can interpret that your related processes should be in order and not hindered. The results are important throughout the day and at the end of the day.

Example – a request is received through the site from a client for a certain type of service. Instead of asking to stand in a commonplace and wait for an employee to “reach in” to see if his team has received a request, the system should channel/distribute the type of request to the team. To create feedback to the system and to the client that the request has been accepted and is being processed. To set a deadline in which to be fulfilled. After communication with the client to reflect the result in the system.

If a change occurs while working with the client, this should also be reflected so that any change can be analyzed. Each problem derived from the analysis should refer to a separate system. This system should be taken over for processing by a team that will propose changes for service improvements. For any change imposed by the client’s desire to communicate with him until his approval. Introduce customer feedback for a while to track how the service is behaving and working. During this time, a defect or problem may be detected that can be avoided in the future altogether (anticipatory information).

Managers take part; the software team; in connection with the client; employees and product analysis and quality team.
Problem – to miss one of the stages and to break the integrity of the process.

10. Support. Maintenance of machines by people who work with them, not by external specialists.

This allows for constant adjustment and minimum downtime.
Interpret this as the idea that you should maintain your own systems and products, not an outside company. You know your products and technology best.
Keeping the processes in order should be done by an internal team. He knows best every subtlety of the process and its logic.

Any outside company will waste time getting to know the technology. Time will be wasted not only in researching the processes to get to the problem in them but also in waiting, if not available, in search of another contractor, if we are not satisfied with this one. Internal teams are always available.
The software team and employees take part.
Problem – Managers do not agree with this.

11. Disciplined, rhythmic work. Synchronized systems where all parts work together.

All teams to perform in synchrony, rhythm, and smooth sequence each stage of production of the product or service. The systems should correspond smoothly and be in constant communication. There should be no acceleration or deceleration somewhere on the “route”. This leads either to an excessive workload of one of the teams or to a “hole” in the work. The principle can be illustrated as running in rhythm and a single step of a team. Self-organized and disciplined teams.

All teams take part.
Problem – A problem can arise somewhere that, if not communicated and fixed in time, can interfere with work. Or there is poor communication between teams and people. Reference: Kaizen and the 20 keys to workplace improvement (of Iwao Kobayashi): Real Examples

12. Defects. Defect management, including defective parts and connections.

Monitor, control, and manage your defects. Look for the causes and try to avoid them.

Creating a system for describing, analyzing, and controlling defects, starting from the private to the whole. A defect should be understood not only as a defect or problem in the product or service (its elements and parts) but also in interpersonal relationships, which is a large part of practice are shown as a reason №1 for failure or lower profit.

Participants – all teams.
Problem – not to understand well the concept of a defect, not to be able to implement a system for control, analysis, and dealing with defects. Interpersonal relationships should not be overcome.

13. Partnerships between suppliers. Work with suppliers, making them part of an ever-improving chain instead of struggling with them.

Globally, supply is a chain. The companies are units of it. If we are service providers to the end-user, then behind us are other companies that make deliveries to us. In order to keep a customer as an end-user, all suppliers in the chain must be collaborators, partners, and like-minded people, because in general, the end customer is everyone’s customer.

Our suppliers must be selected well – after researching the rating, stable contractual relationships, and meeting the necessary criteria. For good commercial practices, it is important to have transparent financial reporting and follow-up control/verification. Contracts must have the most precise and clear clauses, deadlines, and responsibilities, even in the event of irregularities, no serious litigation, and loss of money. In the event of any changes occurred by the end customer, to be able to easily and quickly communicate with them and change the conditions through the Annexes.

Our suppliers to be flexible, up to date with the market and technology in their industry. If our supplier is like that, he can always offer us more technological and cheaper things, which at the same time will improve the quality and will make our product cheaper. Avoid conflicts of interest and distinguish between business and friendly contacts.

Participants – the teams that deal with deliveries; the legal department and management.
Problems – not having studied our suppliers enough; not to have prepared quality contracts; not to exercise good control; not to have proper communication with them; to allow conflicts of interest or unregulated relationships between members of our teams and suppliers.

14. Waste. Constantly identifying and eliminating things that either do not add value or even destroy it.

These can be processes, ways of working, even roles or positions. Anything that doesn’t help you should be removed from your job.
After careful analysis, remove everything that hinders the production process of the product or service, starting with the smallest components. The idea is to eliminate everything that does not bring profit but generates costs. Reference: Adding business value to Agile organizations and the management process

Example – implementation of energy-saving appliances and machines; reducing office space by appropriately reducing jobs to more productive and less space-intensive ones, including teleworking; reduction of unnecessary positions and people (example – employees who enter databases by hand, we will replace with database management software).
Participation – the management team and experts in the quality of the work process.
Problems – not being able to correctly identify all unnecessary processes, conditions, products, and people that generate costs.

15. Support and training for employees. Training employees to work at a higher level so that they can increase the value they add to the work.

Monitoring all new topics and training in the field of staff training, ensuring continuous training and training of employees; encouraging all who create and give ideas; good motivation, and creating a calm and cozy work environment.
Participants – the HR department and management.
Problems – not to understand the process of qualification of employees; not to allocate funds for this.

16. Work in cross-function. Employees work with colleagues from different departments and even change departments to gain experience in other areas.

With this key, employees gain experience and knowledge on the tasks of their colleagues from other teams. In this way, employees get to know the integrity of the product, have the opportunity to “generate” ideas, and enrich the processes with their proposals. The key helps to identify vulnerabilities more easily and quickly and improve efficiency by crossing sideways and knowledge.
Participants – all teams
Problems – resistance from management and teams; teams have no desire for cross-inclusion.

17. Planning. The timing of operations is planned to create a flow of high quality and affordable products.

Planning is an important part of the organization of processes. Without including in the plan the small stages of the process, no control can be exercised and deadlines cannot be met. When going according to plan, the necessary changes in the processes for improving quality and efficiency can be made quickly. Product release or service termination may be scheduled. This contributes to good customer service and creates trust in us as contractors.
Participation – planning and forecasting team, software team, management.
Problems – omissions and preparation of inaccurate plans with missing stages and wrong deadlines.

18. Efficiency. Balancing financial problems with other areas that indirectly affect costs.

Completing some stages of the process can lead to greater cost savings compared to other stages. Thus, the profit from them can give greater savings at the end of the process. In order to find out which part more profit can be accumulated, it is necessary to analyze step by step. Example – online services are part of better and faster customer service that they prefer instead of visiting the office. After analysis, a certain number of offices in the network may be laid off, which will save money on rents, maintenance and service, salaries, and insurance for their employees. At the same time to improve, develop, and maintain at a sufficient level the online service.
The teams for business analysis, software, management participate.
Problems – the inability to find such units in which to apply this approach.

19. Technology. Use and training of more complex technologies and adaptation of teams to them.

Always monitor the entry of new technologies related to the field of business. Advance team training and application of know-how will be a great advantage for the company in market conditions. It will always be flexible and will offer modern, fast, cheaper, and at the same time higher quality services and products.
The software teams participate, teams in which the innovation can be used
Problems – the company fails to monitor for new technological solutions; management should not see in them an opportunity for better profits and product quality.

20. Preservation. Saving resources to avoid waste, both for the company and for society and the environment.

Ecology is a topic that lies in the productions and way of life of people everywhere now. Many companies are looking for waste-free technology or maximum use of resources. The generation of waste is associated with a lot of money for its destruction or removal by the company (fees, fines, permits, transportation, disposal).

The implementation of processes and technologies for non-waste or minimal waste at the end of the process helps not only in the financial part of the company but also in the environment. If the company is a holder of such green or eco certificates in the eyes of the customer or consumer, it earns respect and greater trust.

Even in non-manufacturing areas (such as our insurance business, for example, the use of recycled paper can be introduced when official documents do not need to be printed; separate waste bins; recycled hand paper; automatic dispenser for detergents; photocells for lighting, etc.)

Participants – engineering teams, teams for environmental production, management, other teams.
Problem – environmental behavior and attitudes do not gain support and understanding.

Published by

George Brown

George Brown is a lecturer in project management and Agile practices and is the author of the articles on this educational website.

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