INTRODUCTION TO KAIZEN
What is Kaizen?
Free resources on Kaizen
Learn how to use Kaizen
Some things to know to apply Kaizen
Phases of Kaizen implementation
Kaizen is a japanese management strategy that means “change for the better” or “continuous slow improvement, a belief that all aspects of life should be constantly improved (from the Japanese words “kai” means continuous or change and “zen” means improvement, better).
The Japanese way encourages small improvements day after day, continuously.
The key aspect of Kaizen is that it is an on-going, never-ending improvement process. It's a soft and gradual method opposed to more usual western habits to scrap everything and start with new.
In Japan where the concept originated, kaizen applies to all aspects of life, not just to the workplace.
Kaizen is the word that was originally used to describe a key element of the Toyota Production System that means "making things the way they should be" according to the basic, sensible principles of profitable industrial engineering. It means creating an atmosphere of continuous improvement by changing your view, your method and your way of thinking to make something better.
In use, Kaizen describes an environment where companies and individuals proactively work to improve the manufacturing process.
The kaizen system is based on incremental innovation, where employees are encouraged to make small changes in their work area on an ongoing basis. The cumulative effect of all these little changes over time can be quite significant, especially if all of the employees within a company and its leaders are committed to this philosophy.
Improvements are usually accomplished at little or no expense without sophisticated techniques or expensive equipment. Instead of sinking more money in buying machinery, Kaizen veers an organization towards paying attention to small but significant details. Managers are encouraged to improve the efficiency of existing infrastructure instead of investing in more of the same.
Kaizen focuses on simplification by breaking down complex processes into their subprocesses and then improving them.
The driving force behind kaizen is dissatisfaction with the status quo, no matter how good the firm is perceived to be. Standing still will allow the competition to overtake and pass any complacent firm. The act of being creative to solve a problem or make an improvement not only educates people but also inspires to go further.
The fundamental idea behind kaizen comes straight from the Deming’s PDCA cycle:
- someone has an idea for doing the job better (Plan)
- experiments will be conducted to investigate the idea (Do)
- the results evaluated to determine if the idea produced the desired result (Check)
- if so, the standard operating procedures will be changed (Act)
Kaizen is a system that involves every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis.
In the first stage, management should make every effort to help the workers provide suggestions, no matter how primitive, for the improvement of the worker's job and the workshop. This will help the workers look at the way they are doing their jobs.
In the second stage, management should stress employee education so that employees can provide better suggestions. To enable workers to provide better suggestions, they should be equipped to analyze problems and the environment. This requires education.
Main subjects for suggestions are, in order of importance:
- Improvement in one's own work
- Savings in energy, material, and other resources
- Improvement in the working environment
- Improvements in machines and processes
- Improvements in tools
- Improvements in office work
- Improvements in product quality
- Ideas for new products
- Customer services and customers relations
Kaizen is based on making changes anywhere improvements can be made. Western philosophy may be summarized as, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Kaizen philosophy is to "do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn't broken, because if we don't, we can't compete with those who do."
For example, Toyota is well-known as one of the leaders in using Kaizen. In 1999 at one U.S. plant, 7,000 Toyota employees submitted over 75,000 suggestions; out of them, 99% were implemented.