In my first blog, I talked about 看板 (Kanban) and how it can be applied in many situations from manufacturing to software development and even in life outside of work. The same can be said for Kaizen (改善, my second favorite K) the philosophy of continuous improvement.

Humans naturally strive to simplify, automate and find ways to save time. Let’s face it: We would all love to spend more of our lives doing the fun things we love so saving 5 minutes here, an hour there adds up over time. But how do you decide what and how to improve?

I visited Kaas Tailored in 2016, located in Mukilteo, WA to fulfill a departmental goal around understanding continuous improvement and how to incorporate it into our daily work. I was a bit annoyed about heading north an hour in traffic during the early morning commute, particularly since I felt already knew all about continuous improvement. I sat in the meeting space for the overview and within minutes my agitation changed to excitement. I am a simplification geek and I love finding ways to reduce time and effort, so I immediately noticed the white board marker holder neatly hanging from the presenter’s belt. It looked like it was a small block of wood that had been drilled out so the pen caps could be attached. Each white board marker was neatly attached to the cap so the presenter never fumbled around for markers during the presentation. I said to myself “that’s Kaizen”.

How many times have you attended a working session only to see the presenter or attendees fumbling around for good white board markers? Someone at Kaas Tailored had identified this as wasted time and developed a solution to reduce the waste. That’s what Kaizen is all about, identifying waste and making small iterative changes to reduce that waste.

Let’s take the example of the white board markers and break it down in terms of cost savings.  In this example, let’s say you have a conference room of five technology executives waiting for five minutes in a weekly meeting while someone finds markers resulting in an approximate waste cost of $2500 per year (at the current median salary in Seattle). Creating a solution that costs less than $50 to build saves the company well over $2000 per year on that one simple waste reduction.

I have witnessed various companies over the years encourage continuous improvement amongst its employees using various methods. Kaas Tailored requires that every employee identify waste and submit suggestions for reduction which are reviewed and prioritized. A technology company once offered a percentage of the cost savings for approved waste reduction ideas once the solution was implemented. Yet another used a percentage of savings for its yearly holiday parties so the more the savings the more extravagant the party.

When the Kaizen philosophy becomes part of the company culture, every team member feels more involved and stretches their creativity resulting in satisfied employees and an actual connection to the bottom line.

To hear about my other love, Kanban, check out my first blog here.