The Kaizen Philosophy is change that is both lasting and powerful. The word Kaizen is a Japanese term made up of two characters Kai = change and Zen = good. Toyota popularized the meaning “continuous improvement” in 1955 by applying lean manufacturing to the manufacturing processes. So what does this have to do with you?
In the realm of motherhood, you tend to see constant improvement, because experience is the best teacher. Once you understand the basic principles, you can apply incremental improvements to your routines and processes.
With Kaizen you do not “arrive” because it's the journey that is the focus, the process, the continual change. It is acknowledging that there is always room for improvement and progress.
Masaaki Imai published a book on business management in Japan by the title: “Kaizen: Japanese spirit of improvement” This book popularized the concept of Kaizen in the Western World. In 1997 he published Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management. (Motherhood calls for a certain amount of management, and keeping things budget-friendly is always top of mind.
Kaizen, Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”, refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. Imai (1986) acknowledged that Kaizen starts with detection of needs and problem definition: The starting point for improvement is to recognize the need. This comes from recognition of a problem. If no problem is recognized, there is no recognition of the need for improvement. Complacency is the archenemy of KAIZEN.Masaaki Imai
Think of parenting, or even living with a partner, as commonsense teamwork. In your home, Gemba Kaizen is to embrace the skills of everyone involved. You may be highly skilled at turning a few ingredients into a culinary masterpiece, while your partner might be efficient at cleaning the kitchen or putting the baby down for a nap.
The methodology is to increase quality and reduce waste. Time, energy, money, space, effort, and health are a few of the things that we tend to waste. You might already be feeling overwhelmed just thinking about trying to clean up all those areas. Remember, we are talking about small improvements. So minute as to almost be imperceptible. Because the principle of Kaizen is on these incremental changes and how we make them last. By doing this we are able to become more efficient long term.
Kaizen strives to reduce inefficiency in three primary forms:
- Muda (waste)
- Muri (overburdening activity)
- Mura (inconsistency of work)
Continuous small changes made to improve operations. These baby step improvements are holistic as Kaizen is aimed at processes, products, environment, and to a lesser degree individuals. Kaizen is harmonious with a constant striving for better efficiency and quality of work.
We will go more in-depth on each of these forms of inefficiency to come up with systems that help improve the process and get more done with less effort. The old adage, work smarter not harder definitely applies here.
Kaizen philosophy helps us make small changes for the greater good. Whether we are working on an attitude towards something or a complete transformation, there is always room for improvement. The advantages go beyond waste reduction and include improved self-care, a happier family, and more success reaching goals.
So how do we find the problems that cause inefficiency and waste?
The 5 Why's and How to Apply Them at Home
This might strike you as odd the first time you try it, but asking why five times is a questioning technique that will help you get to the root problem. The key is to troubleshoot the underlying causes of what may seem to be a fairly common problem. Typically, the last answer points to a process that will solve the problem.
An example of a problem is: There's nothing for dinner.
- Why? – No one cooked a meal. (First why)
- Why? – We didn't have a plan. (Second why)
- Why? – We didn't take time to make one. (Third why)
- Why? – We were busy doing other things. (Fourth why)
- Why? – Because I didn't make it a priority or have it on my schedule. (Fifth why, a root cause)
In this case, the underlying cause is that because I didn't set aside time to make a meal plan or shop adequately for groceries, we ended up with nothing for dinner. You could, in theory, ask the 5 whys for another go-around.
“Why didn't I make having a menu plan and shopping accordingly a priority?” You can see where this might lead to even further discoveries. The answer might be because you were too busy, but is that honestly true? While you probably are busy, did you scroll through social media, watch TV, or spend time looking for something exciting in your email inbox? Perhaps that time could have been better spent making a menu plan.
It is recommended that when using the 5 whys questioning, that you use a whiteboard or white paper as opposed to a computer for making notes. During the process, you will want to clearly separate causes from symptoms. Be precise with answers rather than vague.
During this time it will help if you practice honest self-reflection. Try not to overcomplicate things. Frequently ask yourself this question “Am I making this harder than it has to be?”
If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.Lao Tzu
Keep in mind that you are analyzing your PROCESS not yourself nor your character. If you are performing this technique with your spouse, remember it is not used for character assassination! Taking it to a personal level by playing the blame game is not improving the process, it is alienating and destructive. Avoid at all costs.
Delving into the root cause of a problem using this technique can lead to insight as to where good changes can be made. Remember the goal is continuous improvement. The changes do not need to be huge in order to be effective. It's the gradual implementation of baby steps.
The 5 S's of Kaizen Philosophy Applied to Home Life
Sort (Seiri) – The basic concept is to Identify unnecessary stuff and get rid of it. You can use the Marie Kondo method to do this if you choose. More on that later.
Set in order (Seiton)- A place for everything and everything in its place. One of the biggest time wasters in a home is looking for things that have not been put back where they belong.
Shine (Seiso) – Keep your environment tidy. Try a cleaning routine or join a cleaning support group such as FlyLady or CleanMam.net to put a plan in place that will allow you to clean and scrub your entire home on schedule.
Standardize (Seiketsu) – Create best practices and repeat them in all areas – when you find what works, repeat it, it's as simple as that. Highlight the paths that work.
Sustain (Shitsuki) – Maintain the system and avoid slipping into old bad habits. Now that you know what works, keep a reminder in your sight so you don't lose your way. Maintain.
Perfectionism has nothing to do with perfect.Seth Godin
Diving Deeper into the Five S's
In the past decade, Marie Kondo has popularized the decluttering and organizing process. From her first book, the Magical Art of Tidying, to her Netflix show, she is teaching others how to sort through their stuff. Are you holding on to items that no longer bring you joy? Do you have things that you don't use or duplicates of items that someone else could be using? We will dive deeper into the realm of decluttering.
Set in order
Organization is an excellent way to set things in order. Having a designated place for everything you own is hard work initially, but once you have sorted and eliminated you will find it easier to set things in order. Keeping your home organized will help you feel calmer and have less anxiety. It will save you time because you will no longer be searching for items when you need them. They will be right where they ought to be.
Once your home is organized and in order, you will want to keep it clean. Cleaning is so much easier when things aren't piled up everywhere. A desk covered in bills, magazines, notebooks, pens, etc. is much harder to wipe down than one that is clear of clutter. I would recommend staying on the apps or websites rather than social media for reminders about cleaning. If you follow the accounts on social media there is a tendency to fall in that rabbit hole and suddenly you've wasted an hour just exercising your thumb. (i.e. Don't let social media notifications interrupt the time you set aside for things you love.)
Systems make it easier to repeat your small wins and big successes. If you know exactly how you trained for that half-marathon that resulted in your best time, it will be a cinch to do it again next go-round. Tracking your method by recording the small changes we make to ascertain their payoff will help standardize the process. In addition, we must track the payoff for results based motivation. Again, the method and progress need to be tracked along with a lack of progress so you don't repeat inefficient methods.
Once you have a system that works you can make that your gold standard.
Try the plan-do-check-act cycle to standardize and sustain your results. This allows you to test what needs to change while reducing risk. The PDCA cycle can be used repeatedly to determine and implement these tiny changes.
Plan – establish objectives, how are you going to do what needs to be done.
Do – enact with small changes, and do what you planned.
Check – results are evaluated, check how things went when you followed the plan.
Act – adjust the process and implement your solution, evaluate, and start again.
The PDCA cycle will help you increase your performance. Each time you complete a cycle, you will make a bit of progress. Moving you further up the ladder! Keep in mind that at a rate of 1% improvement per day you will reach a 365% improvement at the end of one year. Small loops of the cycle help you come a long way a little at a time rather than a big change all in one shot. Trying to bite off more than you can chew will lead to burnout and possible failure.
Break down the tasks into smaller daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Execute and learn incrementally.
The Kaizen Approach to Sytems in the Home
Think Systemically – Only understanding every part of a process and how they interconnect will lead to lasting change. Remember, one small change at a time is easier than one big change that flops after a week because it was too drastic and you burned out. You may think of the first part of the process as analyzing, the second as identifying, the third as fixing, and the fourth as changing.
Step 1 Examine Your Daily Routine
How do you spend time during the day? Keep track of what you do during a typical day and then highlight areas where you can improve. Break down your routine minute by minute.
Multi-tasking is where you lose time and efficiency because your focus is divided.
Plan tomorrow today. What are the top priorities that you must accomplish? Sketch out your entire day including the time it takes to complete each task. You can add in other tasks or events that require your time so you can fit them in.
Step 2 Identify the parts that are not useful
Looking at your routine, are you spending your precious time on the things that really matter? Are there tasks that could be delegated to someone else? Grocery shopping? Cleaning? Make note of things that could be done better or more efficiently. Write down goals and dreams that you are not making time for. You will find that the inefficient use of time falls into two categories:
- Waste (Mura) – stuff that is ruining your routine. Once you reduce time wasted on fluff your process will improve. You'll find time to do the things that you care most about. We eliminate waste.
- Unreasonable (Muri) – Things you should delegate to others. Many of the items on our list can be delegated or automated.
Step 3 Fix things one baby step at a time
See your goals as a staircase and take them one step at a time. Each step brings you closer to your ultimate goal. Make small steps, tiny, minuscule steps. Plan them out. These slow but steady steps lead to major improvements.
Step 4 Changes add up
Over time the baby steps will get you to the top and your productivity and efficiency will soar. Once you are getting there you will be able to relax and feel at peace. Your stress levels will decrease and your motivation will increase. Things will start running smoother. These changes become habits. It is the standardization of your home processes.
I've provided an example of a value stream map for housework and also a blank one for you to use to create a system of your own. Kaizen works, it is not just a Japanese word to add to your vocabulary. It's a philosophy that will improve how you run your home.