image 90

Kaizen for the 21st Century

An enterprise-wide culture of Performance Improvement and innovation is essential to the DNA of any competitive organisation. Indeed, statistics show that successful Improvement cultures consistently deliver average annual reductions of 1 – 5 % of costs, translating into double figure % improvements in the bottom line.


However, despite substantial effort and funding, the vast majority of Improvement ‘programmes’ worldwide don’t achieve lasting success. Indeed, estimates indicate that globally less than 5% of organisations have a sustained Improvement process and culture at multiple organisation levels that delivers clear and tangible benefits. Each level, from front-line operations through middle management to top leadership, faces its own specific challenges; so that for most organisations sustaining an Improvement culture remains elusive.


The following sections outline why this has traditionally been the case and then explain how KaizApp® has been specifically designed to overcome these challenges through the Digital Transformation of Kaizen. In this way, organisations of any size can achieve enterprise-wide Improvement more easily than ever before.


Why is Performance Improvement difficult to sustain?

Traditional paper and wall-mounted PDCA tools, such as A3, still form the basic building blocks of most Improvement initiatives worldwide. In current best practice, these provide a vital problem-solving structure to facilitate scientific thinking and support an iterative teacher/learner coaching (kata) process.  Unfortunately, these are often misused as static or infrequently updated documents, rather than as live tools of experiment and iteration. Indeed, experience proves that the discipline of continuously updating these paper tools is particularly foreign to Millennials and Generation Z. Even when used as intended, these traditional tools still remain severely limited in supporting enterprise-wide Kaizen.

Traditional paper and wall-based tools show only the latest summary information, with no history of the thought processes, financial assumptions, experimental results and iterations that have already taken place. All this additional data remains less accessible in fragmented formats such as manual notebooks, charts, drives, spreadsheets, emails and chat messages. Different versions of files across employees further complicates the data landscape. In such an environment, improvers lose time, insight and confidence.

Leaders and managers have many demands on their time yet are faced with tedious, inconsistent processes for action management, whether paper-based, wall-mounted or built into various secondary applications. Often there is too much focus on minor task management rather than on the “best next step”, in the direction of the vision or goal. This makes it difficult to direct resources to the delivery of priority Improvements aligned with cascaded objectives.


With Improvement data held in so many fragmented formats, the thinking, assumptions, financial values and their changes are rarely tracked or retained and so remain unavailable for future reflection. Such fragmentation also means that much additional effort is needed to gather data and prepare presentations for senior leaders, including descriptions, action progress, photos, financial values and the delivery story for a number of live Improvement projects. This not only diverts management effort away from the daily Improvement processes themselves, but also requires both time and skills not available at lower levels of the organisation. 


At the root of this is the lack of a single, simple Improvement process suitable for application at all levels.  Without such Improvement standardisation and simplicity, standard coaching prose for others to replicate does not take hold. For example: (a) “What is the vision?” (b) “What is the current condition?” So, (c) “What is the best next step?”.  Hence an infectious, sustainable Improvement culture does not gain momentum. 

Typical paper or wall-based tools are only visible in one place at a time to one or two people, and hence not easy to review in larger groups. Enterprise-wide Improvement information sharing and collaboration is not naturally supported, even just across different shifts on one site, let alone across locations or a network. This limitation can lead to suboptimal solutions when compared to what is possible when a variety of specialists can contribute their ideas and experiments simultaneously towards a common objective. Sharing can only happen if considerable additional effort is devoted to collecting at least some of the fragmented information to prepare presentations. This in turn diverts leaders’ time away from progressing actual improvements and coaching improvers. Finally, without sharing, defining moments of learning and reflection in improvers are lost; and with them the emotion driving people to do better.
Most enterprises lack a single comprehensive and searchable database holding all Improvement-related information on current and past Kaizens, actions, experiments, iterations, targets, due dates, owners, benefits and assumptions. Thus, many key learnings and best practices remain localised and not shared. Organisations remain doomed to “re-invent the wheel”, as individuals and teams continue to address recurrent issues in isolation from one another. Best practices tend to be shared only on an ad hoc basis, through special presentations or emails. Often, valuable employee knowledge is lost when they leave the organisation.
Without coaching, many employees find the details of Improvement very challenging: correctly framing the problem, identifying causes and concluding the root cause, developing business case assumptions, resetting actions and direction based on findings, etc. Unfortunately, coaches (leaders, managers and others) suffer multiple capacity losses. Firstly, with data distributed in many formats and devices, coaches often lack comprehensive data from the learner to help unlock targeted value quickly and efficiently. This increases the time spent per coaching interaction. Secondly, without a single comprehensive data source, coaches always need to be on site to see for themselves. The time spent travelling reduces coaches’ effective capacity (not to mention the travel costs and environmental impact). Finally, the time spent gathering data and packaging it to satisfy reporting requirements further reduces the actual coaching capacity available to help others improve. Given these multiple time losses, it is not surprising that many promising innovations and improvements never even start, or don’t reach completion due to inadequate coaching support.
* These are just some of the major hurdles on the journey of any Improvement programme using traditional approaches. Consequently, a majority of employees are not engaged in structured Improvement and so substantial value remains untapped.

How can enterprises overcome these challenges?

KaizApp® supports successful Performance Improvement implementation everywhere, all the time

image 92
…… to address the key challenges facing existing Improvement approaches and deliver more benefits, more quickly. Adoption brings a sharper focus on what really matters in Improvement. It better supports efficient coaching and sharing of improvements with minimal or even no advance preparation.
  • Capture issues, improvements and actions instantly with photos and text.  
  • Follow digital PDCA processes for structured, scientific cycles of ‘slow thinking and rapid action’; while supporting creativity. 
  • Adopt one digital Improvement process for all, with additional features for senior users. 
  • Collaborate remotely 24/7 across issues with other users.
…… and also works seamlessly across tablets, PCs and large display screens. Work on your improvement on the move and, seconds later, present it by screen projector; no preparation necessary.
KaizApp® routinely give leaders far more time to focus on the core value-adding task: coaching more staff in the iterative “slow thinking, quick action/experiment” cycles required for successful Performance Improvement. By employing one user-friendly and highly accessible platform, organisations can combine and share all data related to Improvement, as well as automate the bulk of administrative efforts. As evidence is routinely captured, structured and shared, emotional and political instincts begin to be replaced by the habit of rational thinking focused on real problems.
  • Set and update financial benefit targets and actuals, as well as custom KPIs.
  • Easily manage delivery of improvements, as well as both dependent and independent actions, with clear accountabilities, timelines and red / green status – also ideal for running highly efficient team reviews using ‘management by exception’ principles. 
  • Measure and report improvement costs and benefits enterprise-wide in real-time
  • Access Improvement information, which is always ‘presentation-ready’; reducing the skill and time needed to update leaders of any level.
  • Hold all information related to Improvement activities in one instantly searchable database.
  • Manage more change, more intensely, across more people.
  • Coach improvers with high efficiency, including effective remote coaching – this multiplies capacity of coaches and reduces travel costs. 
  • View user and team Improvement performance KPIs.
  • Search enterprise-wide for best practices; across all users and teams. 
  • Harness employees’ existing social media habits for business benefits.

The infinite flexibility that KaizApp® introduces into the coaching process supports deep engagement between leaders and learners throughout the organisation. This is vital to building and sustaining a successful Improvement culture. Indeed, KaizApp® provides a meaningful basis upon which to continue effective “little and often” coaching even when the coach is no longer on site. Each year, enterprises set new targets and objectives. Hence the coaching model for Improvement also needs to become longer term. KaizApp® is the ideal basis for this.


In addition, remote coaching has the effect of multiplying the capacity of specialist coaches, not to mention the obvious opportunity to cut their travel costs and related carbon emissions. Finally, KaizApp® supports ‘network coaching’ by making it easy for fellow users to contribute expertise and ideas towards each other’s improvements. This happens both during and outside of regular reviews, regardless of location.


KaizApp® embodies the Lean improvement principle of self-reflection (to do better) and naturally encourages adopters to develop and deepen their own scientific / PDCA thinking . Regular KaizApp® usage supports adoption of daily Improvement habits. Users begin to prioritise their efforts, focus on the best next step (action), track progress and record evidence in the form of photos, charts, tables and text as each Kaizen progresses.


In addition, users are encouraged to continually refine business case assumptions, which is highly prized in Western management cultures. The visibility of all this critical information within KaizApp® strongly supports effective coaching and seamless upward reporting. In this way, KaizApp® boosts individual users’ confidence to succeed with Performance Improvement – “It’s not so complex after all, using KaizApp® is simple.”.


Outcomes of Improvement Workshops and Kaizen events need to be channelled into a structure. KaizApp® is ideally suited for this, as it allows all workshop issues, ideas and actions to be placed into a scientific improvement format. With clear KPIs, accountabilities and timelines, the resulting improvements are then managed to completion through KaizApp®; on site and / or remotely.


In this way, line managers can easily engage in delivery of the workshop outputs. KaizApp® also makes it easy for leaders to monitor delivery progress and measure the total benefit impact of each workshop or event held, simply by grouping the resulting Kaizens into a single Waste Walk.

  • Ongoing enterprise Continuous Improvement
  • Breakthrough Performance Improvements
  • Transformation projects
  • Cost reduction programmes
  • Quality improvement projects
  • Supplier development programmes and procurement cost reductions

How does Kaizapp® sustain enterprise improvement?

KaizApp® provides the framework for whole-enterprise Kaizen by meeting the specific needs of each organisational level, from top leadership through middle management to frontline execution. KaizApp® enables this cross-level collaboration and alignment as shown below:

KaizApp® naturally drives the Digital Transformation of improvement

as employees from the habits of capturing evidence with photos and/or files and presenting their thoughts and progress in a digital PCDCA format in this way, the discipline of Kaizen becomes the natural way of thinking andacting for all users. This is the power of industry 4.0 in action.

Try KaizApp® free for 28 days
Immediate access. No credit card required.