Kaizen methodology is an approach that pushes forward the continuous improvement in an organization, based on the constant small positive changes that can result in major and more significant growth. Kaizen is considered a culture more than a methodology and is based on communication and cooperation among the organization members as part of the lean process improvements. Kaizen is a form of life that can be applied in many professional fields, including the Law.
Robert Maurer described the Kaizen method as a journey of a thousand miles that begins with a single step (Mckay, 2017). Change takes place in an iterative way, rather than through “big moves.” There’s also the associated concept of Kaizen blitz (also known as a Kaizen event), which refers to the idea of a scheduled, super-focused period of attention directed on a single business process. The story of Kaizen begins in America, travels to Japan, and then spreads worldwide. Here is a short history.
Kaizen has its origins during World War II. When the United States entered the war, a group of Americans led by W. Edwards Deming, an engineer and statistician, set out to convert car factories into tank factories, quickly and with minimal resources. To achieve their lofty goal, Deming and his colleagues asked the workers to find small ways to improve their processes and quickly found out that small changes led to significant, measurable, and innovative results.
After World War II, Deming traveled to Japan to help with manufacturing, as Japan was trying to rebuild. The Japanese took to heart the Deming principles. Businessman and industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno was the first Japanese business figure to translate Deming quality control principles into incredible, world-leading results. He called it the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS, also known as “just-in-time” manufacturing, a system for reducing waste and maximizing efficiencies through continuous improvement.
Kaizen is also identified as a significant example of a Lean business strategy. Taiichi Ohno used Kaizen in the Toyota factory to improve the quality of the vehicles. Initially, in companies like Ford or GM, the cars were assembled and sold without proper quality controls in place. Once the customers drove the cars and found problems, they would come back to the company to fix the issues. Deming principles changed that process so that every part is checked in the assembly line; if any problem is found, the assembly is stopped, and the issue is fixed then and there. Sounds so obvious now, but it was innovative then, and it revolutionized car manufacturing.
Kaizen is a combination of two words, Kai (change) and Zen (good). Kaizen is about empowering people to make small changes to get significant results. Maurer explained that the biggest myth is thinking that the only way to change is through significant steps (Mckay, 2017). Kaizen philosophy teaches that making small changes will help to break bad habits and create a routine in daily activities. A perfect example of a change for the good you can make every day is to set aside 10-15 minutes to clean your inbox early in the morning, each day, and “double delete” all of the extra data you don’t need. This simple step would improve the performance of your email system, your computer, maybe the network. It would save you or your employee data storage costs. It would increase your productivity by making important information easier to find. It would improve your mental health because it is akin to "spring cleaning" and gives you a sense of accomplishment early in the day. Another example of Kaizen application is when trying to start a workout routine. Rather than embarking on an impossible mission to work out 5 times a week for 60 minutes, start working out 5 minutes per day, or do ten sit-ups/push-ups every day. The idea is to create a new routine and help you improve day by day. Your mindset will change, and your brain will automatically look for ways to improve that routine. Therefore, by the second or third week, you may be upping your time, push-ups, and/or sit-ups, adding ways to improve your process. Kaizen is the path of continuous improvement; no matter what it is, there is always room for improvement.
Kaizen is easy to understand, not hard to implement, and because of the broad concept behind the word: “change for the good,” there are many ways you can apply Kaizen in an organization.
Lawyers today should be looking for ways to deliver value and improve their service delivery. Training your lawyers in the Deming ways, including Kaizen, can go a long way to create the right breeding ground for successful innovation. Some of the advantages of implementing Kaizen in an organization are:
While the ultimate goal is to reach a state of continuous improvement, to get there, you must do some work. Kaizen blitzes or events are the perfect kick-offs for the improvement journey. In a Kaizen event, your team can discuss the current state to find small ways to improve the various steps in a process. The current process is mapped, dissected, deconstructed, and re-assembled into a better process. It is essential to recognize that you cannot improve any process you don’t understand. Questions to ask:
Kaizen can be instrumental in your legal process improvement journey. Its application can be a game-changer. Take a small step today and reach out to us today at 212.897.9500 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.