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How Do I Begin to Use Kaizen to Improve a Work Process? - Joseph P. Vitalo

Once you have identified a work process on which you want to apply the Kaizen method, there are basic steps you need to take. Take these steps and you will launch your effort in a way that is most likely to succeed.


Determine whether there is an existing work standard for the process you want to improve. A work standard is a written description of how the process should be done. If there is no written work standard, then your first step is to create one (see Building Standardized Work Processes). Without a work standard, you have no baseline performance to improve and no meaningful way to apply Kaizen.

If you have a documented work standard for the process you seek to improve, then you will apply Kaizen to make this standard method more value-adding and less wasteful.


Identify what measures exist that tell how well the process is currently operating. You need to understand the current level of success of each work process you seek to improve so that you can measure whether you have improved it and, even before that, to detect where to focus your improvement efforts.

When you have gathered the work process measures (e.g., unit cost, cycle time, throughput, utilization, defect rate, recordables), list them in a table. For each measure, record what is the target level of success for that measure and what the the current level of success is.

Work Process Measure
Target Level of Success
Current Observed Level of Success
List Record Record

If there are no measures for the work process you seek to improve, then create them. You cannot improve a work process unless there exists ways to detect how well it is operating for the business.


Learn about your target work process. Get and study the work standard. Walk the work process with someone who is very knowledgeable of it. Try to describe the work process using the guidance in the section titled Step D1-S1. Build a Description of the Target Work Process (begins on page 197 in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard). Have your draft descriptions reviewed by the expert to confirm that you understand how the work process operates.


Identify the work process measures that match the company's priority improvement objectives (current business drivers). It is these measures you will target for improvement by uncovering the waste that is compromising the work process's level of success. If the company has not defined such objectives, look for the work process measures most related to achieving the company's priority business results (customer satisfaction, sales revenues, profits, market share).


Document a scope for the proposed application of Kaizen. A scope defines the focus, boundaries, and expectations for performing a Kaizen event. Use the guidance in section Milestone A. Document a Scope for the Kaizen Event (begins on page 67 in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard). Record the scope information using the Scope Document provided in the Kaizen Tool Kit.


When you have taken these steps, study the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard for additional help. It contains guidance that steps you though the entire process from beginning to end. It also contains the Kaizen Tool Kit that has 62 electronic tools to assist you in performing Kaizen.

Feel free to share what you find using this web site's Ask an Expert service and ask any questions that arise for which you need assistance.

Published October 2005

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