Achieving Operational Excellence in Support Functions through KAIZEN™


Organizations use the KAIZEN™ approach to improve productivity, efficiency, and quality by identifying problems and developing permanent solutions to optimize business processes. Achieving operational excellence through KAIZEN™ means applying this methodology to support functions of an organization, including human resources, finance, customer service, legal and administrative areas. As these areas primarily serve the company’s operational teams, their customer is considered “internal”. Although these areas usually do not report to the final customer, the same KAIZEN™ principles apply when considering the “next step of the process” as the client.

Implementing operational excellence in support functions aims to maximize efficiency while decreasing waste, leading to cost savings, higher productivity, and better internal client satisfaction.

Understanding Operational Excellence in support functions

In the next few years, support functions will need to be at the forefront by ensuring the most talented people deliver the best, fastest, most efficient solutions perfectly adapted to the needs of the business units.

Finance, human resources, customer support, and legal teams will need to change their operational model’s paradigms to:

  • Create customer-centric process flows across functions and geographies
  • Drive digital transformation through standardization
  • Act as a platform for future growth

Understanding operational excellence within business services or support functions requires understanding some essential components, such as:

End-to-end process improvement

As with any business function, support functions should focus on meeting and exceeding their customers’ needs. They must deliver superior quality services to their external and, more commonly, internal customers.

Focus on the internal client

As with any business function, support functions should focus on meeting and exceeding their customers’ needs. They must deliver superior quality services to their external and, more commonly, internal customers.

Use data to make decisions

Administrative services should collect and evaluate performance measures to compare against peers, identify areas for potential improvement, and make well-informed choices about strategic options and investments.


Even more relevant than in the rest of the organization, support functions need to collaborate closely with other business functions and communicate openly and transparently with them to align goals, share knowledge and expertise, and ensure everyone works towards common objectives.

Learning and training

Operational excellence in support functions requires organizations to foster an atmosphere of continuous improvement and learning, investing in employee training and development to build skills, knowledge, and expertise.

Before doing a deep dive into these concepts and principles, it is critical to understand the step-by-step to implement operational excellence in administrative services:

Define a multidisciplinary team

This team should consist of representatives from support functions and other relevant departments (including internal clients and Information and Technology departments) to identify opportunities for improvement and implement changes.

Define the scope and objectives

Establish the nature of the improvement project by identifying which process, activity, or area needs improvement and creating goals to guide it.

Analyze the current state and identify improvement opportunities

Recognize which processes require enhancement by collecting and analyzing data (such as employee feedback or reviewing performance metrics). Thoroughly analyze the processes to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and waste. This step should entail using tools like value stream mapping , process flow diagrams, or root cause analysis.

Agree on the future paradigms

Generate potential solutions by engaging in brainstorming sessions.

Implement the solutions

Define the detailed action plan for each solution and implement it through training employees, altering procedures, or adopting new technologies.

Monitor and continuously improve

Measure results to make sure they have the desired effect. Perform a root cause analysis every time a KPI deviation is detected.

Importance of operational excellence in administrative services

Reaching operational excellence in administrative areas can be a difficult challenge many organizations underestimate. Still, efficient support functions bring many distinct advantages that this article explores below.

Operational Cost savings

Administrative services represent one of an organization’s major cost centers. Therefore, achieving operational excellence within support functions can lead to high-cost savings by streamlining processes, eliminating wasteful processes, and improving efficiency – ultimately saving money and deploying resources more efficiently.

Optimize productivity

By eliminating inefficiency and simplifying administrative tasks, productivity increases significantly, and employees can dedicate themselves more fully to value-added activities that ensure an organization’s long-term success.

Enhance customer satisfaction

Administrative services support other business functions and can dramatically boost customer satisfaction when performed at peak performance. By offering high-quality but cost-efficient administrative services to their clients, organizations can improve overall customer experiences and business operations.

Improve service level and agility

By streamlining processes and eliminating waste, organizations are better able to respond swiftly and adapt quickly to changes in the business environment and opportunities or challenges presented. Such is only possible by integrating activities and reducing lead times, improving agility and flexibility.

How the KAIZEN™ Methodology Enhances Operational Excellence

Despite being used within the manufacturing industry for continuous improvement, the KAIZEN™ methodology can also support Human Resources, IT, and Finance functions, to eliminate waste, reduce costs, and improve quality and productivity while increasing customer satisfaction.

Below are several applications of the KAIZEN™ principles to achieve operational excellence in support functions.

Overview of the KAIZEN™ principles

The KAIZEN principles are management practices designed to foster continuous improvement within organizations. Below are the main principles associated with this methodology:

Value creation for the customer

Emphasis on understanding and fulfilling customer requirements to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Create flow efficiency

Eliminating all sources of waste – unnecessary steps, defects, and delays from all processes.

Gemba effectiveness

Go to the shop floor to solve problems at the root cause and standardize processes to decrease variability and ensure quality results.

People engagement

Employee participation in the improvement process gives them the power to identify and solve potential problems.

Be scientific and transparent

Long-term thinking based on data-driven decision-making.

Applying KAIZEN™ principles in support functions

To implement Kaizen principles effectively in support functions, organizations should form a Kaizen team, clearly identify a problem, analyze processes, generate solutions, implement changes, and track results. By following this path, organizations can achieve operational excellence within support functions while improving overall organizational performance.

Applying the KAIZEN™ principles means solving support functions’ most pressing issues: Process variability, Poor quality and errors, Repetitive problems, Talent management difficulties, Information systems complexity, and High lead times.

To achieve efficient and agile support functions, we gathered a list of insights and applications of the KAIZEN™ methodology to solve the most critical problems in these areas:

Process variability

Problem detailed:

  • Non-standardized process (regarding month-end processes, for example).
  • Non-standardized communication channels (email, call, MS teams, etc.).
  • Training of new collaborators based only on shadowing of a senior colleague.
  • Variability in validations (each employee has their method) and overprocessing.
  • Different formats for the same piece of information (ex: invoices).

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Create consistent processes to deliver the desired results.
  • Identify critical processes that affect the team’s performance.
  • Define visual standards for critical processes.
  • Create a routine for training and skills matrix evaluation.

Poor quality and errors

Problem detailed:

  • Missing or incomplete information regarding process requirements and data.
  • Inputs with errors (e.g., picks, expenses, legal discounts, etc.).
  • Illegible pieces of information (unreadable).
  • Missing documents (e.g., purchase orders).
  • Lack of integration with customers’ systems for receiving orders (e.g., EDI).

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Implement an Auto-Quality Matrix to detect quality problems.
  • Define tools and processes to avoid producing non-quality information or passing the error to the next task.

Repetitive problems

Problem detailed:

  • Failure to comply with deadlines.
  • Lack of control points and anti-error systems throughout processes.
  • Divergences between data sent to accounting and published accounting data.
  • Bureaucratic and error-prone contracting process (customer and employees).

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Define categories of problems and quantify their impact.
  • Develop a root-cause analysis based on data.
  • Define a measurable action plan that has responsibilities and is time-bounded.

Talent management difficulties

Problem detailed:

  • Poor team organization and little time devoted to improvement.
  • Inflexible work capacity and misaligned with demand.
  • Inconsistent performance evaluation (no structured follow-up).
  • Lack of definition or standardization of career plans.
  • Limited analytics, reporting, and audit capabilities.

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Daily routines to develop improvement behaviors and sustain improvements.
  • Improve training processes.
  • Implement an agile organization.

Information systems complexity

Problem detailed:

  • Each business unit has its systems and applications.
  • Manual data transfer between systems and applications due to lack of integration.
  • Specialization for system license management reasons.
  • Missing/ failures in integrating the accounting system with ERP and HR system.

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Implement systems integration.
  • Define a data management strategy.
  • Improve automation: use technology to automate administrative processes or a part of the processes to improve workers’ productivity and reduce quality issues and variability.

High lead times

Problem detailed:

  • Excessive levels of control and approval.
  • Non-value-added activities and lack of automation.
  • Difficulty sharing feasible delivery dates with the customer.

KAIZEN™ principles applied:

  • Adopt a new paradigm: From resource efficiency to flow efficiency, maximizing the time value is being added.

The Role of Training and Consulting in Achieving Operational Excellence

Training and consulting are invaluable in supporting organizations’ pursuit of operational excellence within support functions. Here are a few ways that training and consulting services can assist organizations:

Skill Development

Training can assist employees in support functions to build up their knowledge and skill base by teaching best practices, new technologies, and process improvement methodologies. Consulting services also offer expertise and identify potential areas for enhancement within organizations.

Change Management

Implementing changes within support functions can be challenging, so consulting services, especially with KAIZEN™ trained consultants, offer important support when managing this transition process. These consultants provide employees with guidance for adapting to new processes or technologies and advice about change strategies and best practices.

Process Improvement

Training and consulting can assist process improvement initiatives within support functions by offering training on Lean, Six Sigma, and KAIZEN methodologies.

Support functions can achieve increased efficiency, effectiveness, and internal customer satisfaction by equipping employees with the knowledge required for improving processes, managing change effectively, measuring performance accurately, and transferring knowledge. KAIZEN™ consulting can offer additional expertise when improving processes with further initiatives that lead to even more organizational success.

Still have some questions about Operational Excellence in Finance and HR

What are support functions?

Support functions refer to departments or functions within an organization that provide essential back office functions that assist other departments or functions without directly being involved with the production or delivery of its products or services. They commonly include finance, human resources, customer service, information technologies, etc.

Which type of company has support functions?

Support functions are part of any business regardless of size or industry. Any organization with multiple departments will require support functions to operate efficiently.

What is an Auto-Quality matrix?

An Auto-Quality matrix is one tool used in the Kaizen methodology to identify where quality issues may emerge in processes and measures that may prevent their appearance.

See more on Business Services

Find out more about transformation in this sector

See more on Administration & Services

Find out more about improving this business area

Get the latest news about Kaizen Institute