By Jessica Hensler, Lean Process Leader

Every time we design a new facility, HMC strives to become better. From the first project we did for San Antonio Community Hospital in 1940 to the 2,000-bed hospital we designed for The People’s Republic of China last year, we use lessons learned, new concepts, improved tools, and better processes to create the best outcome in less time and at less cost. Step by step, little by little, project by project, HMC has evolved into an internationally recognized design firm. This process of continuous improvement is the foundation of lean, and small, continuous, incremental changes are called “kaizen.”

In Japanese, kaizen means “change to become good” or “change for the better.” When it comes to lean practices, a kaizen event is used to refer to small, focused improvements. In a time span that usually lasts from two days to a week, those low-hanging fruit are identified and addressed, reaping a quick benefit or improvement within a standard process.

In the business world, companies like Toyota use kaizen blitzes or kaizen bursts to improve identified processes or pieces within a larger process. But kaizen is not something reserved for the corporate or manufacturing world. This concept can also be used to improve your own personal processes. Think about the way you get ready in the morning, how you make dinner each night, or how you move through a workday. Each of these things, whether you call it that or not, is a standardized process, and most processes include some amount of waste or lost time. So practice lean by conducting your own kaizen event!

First, choose the process you’d like to improve. Then, begin to pay attention to what you’re currently doing for a few days. Write each step down, draw a map of it, keep track in your mind, but become cognizant of each step. Next, begin to spot moments where time is being wasted, extra steps are being taken, or unnecessary activities are being included. Now, day by day, focus on eliminating those wasteful or extra steps until your improved process has become your standard process.

Wondering where to start? Well, according to a survey by America Online and, the average American worker spends 2.09 hours per 8 hour day wasting time, not including lunch and scheduled breaks. The No. 1 cause: surfing the internet. Talk about room for improvement! Start by examining your work day and really paying attention to how you spend your time. Keeping a log is a good way to do this. Then identify and begin to eliminate the larger spans of wasted time by modifying your routine – only surf the internet during lunch or breaks, close your email except for designated times throughout the day, spend less time in the kitchen socializing with co-workers. Keep at it and you should see a more productive work day!

Making a kaizen event successful takes discipline. However, the results are usually immediate and satisfying. So give it a try and understand lean by making it personal! Please feel free to share your experience or ask me questions! Happy kaizen!

Reading suggestions:
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
by Dr. Robert Maurer
Red Means Go!
By Carl Taylor