Kaizen – The Philosophy of Continuous Improvement

What is Kaizen?

Japan’s management philosophy has introduced a new creative strategy for competitive success in business, or the so-called “Kaizen” model. The term Kaizen began to receive attention from management experts and scholars around the world when Masaaki Imai published his first book in 1986, “The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success”.

Kaizen - Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is a Japanese word with literally mean improvement, taken from words ‘Kai’, which means continuous and ‘zen’ which means improvement. Some translate ‘Kai’ to mean change and ‘zen’ to mean good, or for the better. In the context of Lean manufacturing, kaizen is understood to signify small, incremental, and frequent improvements to a process. Lean philosophy states that the large improvement which just require small amounts of investment and risk. The kaizen main mindset is making process improvements without adding people and space to the process. The more important one is implement the change without spending the money.

“Kaizen (Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the better”) refers to a philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, supporting business processes, and management.”

In their book The Toyota Way Fieldbook, Jeffrey Liker and David Meier discuss the kaizen blitz and kaizen burst (or kaizen event) approaches to continuous improvement. A kaizen blitz, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity. The basic concept is to identify and quickly remove waste. Another approach is that of the kaizen burst, a specific kaizen activity on a particular process in the value stream. Key elements of kaizen are quality, effort, involvement of all employees, willingness to change, and communication.

History of Kaizen

After World War II, to help restore Japan, American occupation forces brought in American experts to help with the rebuilding of Japanese industry. The Civil Communications Section (CCS) developed a Management Training Program that taught statistical control methods as part of the overall material. This course was developed and taught by Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman in 1949 and 1950. Sarasohn recommended William Deming for further training in Statistical Methods. The Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) group was also tasked with improving Japanese management skills and Edgar McVoy is instrumental in bringing Lowell Mellen to Japan to properly install the Training Within Industry (TWI) programs in 1951. Prior to the arrival of Mellen in 1951, the ESS group had a training film done to introduce the three TWI “J” programs (Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations)- the film was titled “Improvement in 4 Steps” (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai). This is the original introduction of “Kaizen” to Japan. For the pioneering, introducing, and implementing Kaizen in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded the Second Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming in 1960.

In the early 1950s, Kaizen was first introduced in Japan which is the Toyota manufacturing plant. In Japan, kaizen is a way of life in the workplace which from the office of the CEO until to the shop apprentice. Kaizen has lead most of the company from a defeated wartime nation to one of the strongest industrialized countries in the world. The main principle of kaizen is making the small, immediate improvements in the process and standardizes the workplace. Actually, all of these small improvement will add up to better the working conditions which a higher degree of safety, more efficiency and ultimately, greater profits.

Working of Kaizen

Kaizen strategy counts mostly on human efforts to improve results which requires process improvement. Kaizen follows a process-oriented approach, referred to as the “plan-do-check-act” (PDCA) cycle, used for process improvement. “Plan” refers to setting a target for improvement whereby “Do” is implementing the plan. “Check” is the control for effective performance of the plan. On the other hand, “Act” refers to standardizing the new (improved) process and setting targets for a new improvement cycle. As literal as it can be, the cycle is called the “improving cycle.” As the resulting work process, following each cycle of improvement, becomes unstable due to the nature of change, a second cycle is, therefore, required to stabilize it. The second cycle is described as the “standardizing cycle,” and referred to as “standardize-do-check-act” (SDCA) cycle. The main purpose of this cycle is to iron out abnormalities in the resulting work process and bring it back to harmony before moving to a new improving cycle. In other words, the standardizing cycle maintains current work processes, while the improving cycle improves them. The two cycles (PDCA and SDCA) revolve regularly to spread a culture of continuous improvement as a standard practice within an organization. This indicates an organization should never stick to a status quo.

Kaizen - PDCA Cycle - Demings Wheel

Kaizen also talks about improving performance in terms of three dimensions which are quality, cost, and delivery (QCD). Quality is usually among the most important criteria customers use to make the purchase. Quality is usually customer-defined and referred to as the perceived characteristics and features of a product. This includes the quality of processes that go into it. Cost is usually looked at from the manufacturer’s perspective, as the overall cost of making and selling a product. An important factor, here, is the elimination of waste in many aspects of work , for example, production, inventory, repair, rejects, motion, processing and so on. Delivery refers to delivering the required quantity of products in the right place at the right time. The company may offer better prices (through reduced cost) and attractive delivery terms. But this does not guarantee competitiveness if the quality of goods and services falls short of consumer expectations. Some cost-oriented managers do not resist the temptation of cutting cost at the expense of quality. This could work well in the short run, but would likely to jeopardize not only profitability, but also image and market position of the product in the long run.

Kaizen - Quality Cost and Delivery

Kaizen views the whole work in a specific organization as a series of interrelated processes where each consists of a supplier and a customer. The supplier provides the process with inputs such as materials and/or information. The supplier can be another process within the organization or someone outside the organization. Same goes to the customer, the customer is either someone in the organization (internal customer) or the final customer out in the market (external customer). The customer receives (or deals with) the output of the process. Having this in mind, all individuals within an organization deal with customers – either internal or external ones. That is, the next process is always regarded as a customer. The model will gradually lead to a commitment that employees never provide inaccurate information or defective materials to those in the next process, particularly when the organization has a strong commitment to consumer satisfaction. Through this, Kaizen tries to establish a natural commitment to on-going process improvement throughout the organization to ensure that external customers will always receive high quality products.

Implementation of Kaizen

In the western, the improvements are done by introducing the latest technology, or incorporate the newest management technique and the result is outspending of money and time. But Kaizen is different which just requires a small investment of money, but a large investment in effort, cooperation and training. If fully implementation in organization, the results are often amazing. Kaizen is a process which must become a daily part of every worker’s routine and this is the key for the successful implementation of Kaizen Concept.

In Kaizen, management has two functions which are maintenance and improvement. The important part of kaizen is setting and keeping them. The role of management is to maintain the technological and operating standards that have been put into place. The other role of management is improvement which constantly looking for ways to raise the current operating standards. This is an ongoing effort and must be a daily part of the manager’s job. Process is the holy grail of kaizen and the main focus of Kaizen is on the process because Kaizen emphasize that improving the process will improve the result.

In the implementation of Kaizen strategy, the company needs to assess for evidence of logical and practical. One of the basic parameters of Kaizen is the total duration of a production cycle. By learning how long it takes for one cycle of production, management interface in a position that efficiency will be determined and where there is none. Be eliminated as inefficient process that improves the overall productivity of an enterprise. Another key indicator is Kaizen Flow task. This applies to working relationships between employees of different grades and departments. Efficient production could be achieved only if all segments do their respective tasks. Follow-up meetings are also essential for Kaizen, as what operations are assessed and evaluated. The development of Kaizen Scorecard is a key task of management, because it shows and describes how the concept of continuous improvement of its business activities and processes are integrated. Kaizen, by its nature, is a continuous process, necessary changes must be made from time to time. However, with the correct implementation of Kaizen can hope to improve organizational productivity and profitability.

The major concept of kaizen is visual management. The opportunities for improvement may present themselves on a daily basis, but if you are not able to see them, they will be missed. One of primary methods used in kaizen is to create an environment where tools, supplies and processes that out of place can be seen right away. There are two systems that are used to achieve this target is 5S and 5M. The heart and soul of visual management is 5S. It is systematic approach to workplace organization and cleaning that will transform a disorganized workplace into an efficient running machine. The 5Ss are Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu) and Sustain (Shitsuke).

The Advantages of Kaizen

Kaizen involve every employee in making change whether in most cases small or incremental changes. These continual improvements add up to major benefit for the organization. It more focuses on identifying problems at their source, solving that problem and changing standards to ensure the problem fully solved. Although only small improvement it will give major benefits for the organization. The benefit that will get by implementation improvement in product which is improved productivity, improved quality, better safety, faster delivery, lower costs, and greater customer satisfaction. Other than that, it also gives benefits to the company. One of that, employees working in companies that apply Kaizen generally find work more easier and enjoyable. Because of that, it wills higher resulting in employee morale and job satisfaction and lower turnover.

Another advantage that we get in applying kaizen which is kaizen reduces waste in many areas such as inventory, waiting times, transportation worker motion, employee skills, over production, excess quality and also in processes. It is because we identify waste in product and immediately reduce it. Kaizen also improves space utilization, product quality, use of capital, communication, production capability and employee retention. Improvement in the business will lead to changes in the business quality, cost and delivery of product. Besides that, improvement also can see in level of customer satisfaction and business growth. Improved quality and efficient standard processes is yield consistent result.

Kaizen provides immediate results. It focuses on creative investments that continually solve large numbers instead of focusing on large and capital intensive improvements. Kaizen still improve the capital projects process, but to be more specific kaizen is more making small improvements that improves process and reduce waste.

The Disadvantages of Kaizen

The training is necessarily shallow. It is because it not enough time for deep learning of principle, exchange and design methodology. There is simply no time to talk or train because it is a blitz. Another disadvantage of kaizen when it applies in organization is the overall process may suffer as a result. Everyone tend to like immediate results and can develop pockets of efficiency, while at the same time the entire operation is spoil.

Kaizen does not allow the time to develop important result element of Lean manufacturing. Therefore, it does not allow full overview of lean manufacturing program to be understood. It may be seen as disconnected part of program since it is one-time event. For example in Total Quality Management, it takes time to introduce and produce results. To properly develop, it may take month or year. During that time, it will be often forgotten in implement it.

The other disadvantages of apply kaizen concept is it require a complete change in attitude and culture, and needs commitment of all employees. It is because to achieve or apply kaizen will more difficult. Finally, continuous improvement is not sufficient on its own. It is need also needed major innovation. Moreover, business will be more danger if we only make evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

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