Kaizen (改善) is the Sino-Japanese word for "improvement". In business, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, and banking.
By improving standardized programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.
The Japanese word kaizen means "change for better", without inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word "improvement". However, given the common practice in Japan of labeling industrial or business improvement techniques with the word "kaizen", particularly the practices spearheaded by Toyota, the word "kaizen" in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, especially those with a "Japanese philosophy". The discussion below focuses on such interpretations of the word, as frequently used in the context of modern management discussions. Two kaizen approaches have been distinguished:
- Flow kaizen
- Process kaizen
The former is oriented towards the flow of materials and information, and is often identified with the reorganization of an entire production area, even a company. The latter means the improvement of individual workstands. Therefore, improving the way production workers do their job is a part of a process kaizen. The use of the kaizen model for continuous improvement demands that both flow and process kaizens are used, although process kaizens are used more often to focus workers on continuous small improvements. In this model, operators mostly look for small ideas which, if possible, can be implemented on the same day. This is in contrast to traditional models of work improvement, which generally have a long lag between concept development and project implementation.
Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (muri), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. In all, the process suggests a humanized approach to workers and to increasing productivity: "The idea is to nurture the company's people as much as it is to praise and encourage participation in kaizen activities." Successful implementation requires "the participation of workers in the improvement." People at all levels of an organization participate in kaizen, from the CEO down to janitorial staff, as well as external stakeholders when applicable. Kaizen is most commonly associated with manufacturing operations, as at Toyota, but has also been used in non-manufacturing environments. The format for kaizen can be individual, suggestion system, small group, or large group. At Toyota, it is usually a local improvement within a workstation or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity. This group is often guided through the kaizen process by a line supervisor; sometimes this is the line supervisor's key role. Kaizen on a broad, cross-departmental scale in companies, generates total quality management, and frees human efforts through improving productivity using machines and computing power.
While kaizen (at Toyota) usually delivers small improvements, the culture of continual aligned small improvements and standardization yields large results in terms of overall improvement in productivity. This philosophy differs from the "command and control" improvement programs (e.g., Business Process Improvement) of the mid-20th century. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. Large-scale pre-planning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements are suggested.
In modern usage, it is designed to address a particular issue over the course of a week and is referred to as a "kaizen blitz" or "kaizen event". These are limited in scope, and issues that arise from them are typically used in later blitzes. A person who makes a large contribution in the successful implementation of kaizen during kaizen events is awarded the title of "Zenkai". In the 21st century, business consultants in various countries have engaged in widespread adoption and sharing of the Kaizen framework as a way to help their clients restructure and refocus their business processes.
The small-step work improvement approach was developed in the USA under Training Within Industry program (TWI Job Methods). Instead of encouraging large, radical changes to achieve desired goals, these methods recommended that organizations introduce small improvements, preferably ones that could be implemented on the same day. The major reason was that during WWII there was neither time nor resources for large and innovative changes in the production of war equipment. The essence of the approach came down to improving the use of the existing workforce and technologies.
As part of the Marshall Plan after World War II, American occupation forces brought in experts to help with the rebuilding of Japanese industry while the Civil Communications Section (CCS) developed a management training program that taught statistical control methods as part of the overall material. Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman developed and taught this course in 1949-1950. Sarasohn recommended W. Edwards 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 was instrumental in bringing Lowell Mellen to Japan to properly install the Training Within Industry (TWI) programs in 1951. The ESS group had a training film to introduce TWI's three "J" programs: Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations. Titled "Improvement in Four Steps" (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai) it thus introduced kaizen to Japan.
For the pioneering, introduction, and implementation of kaizen in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming in 1960. Subsequently, the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) instituted the annual Deming Prizes for achievement in quality and dependability of products. On October 18, 1989, JUSE awarded the Deming Prize to Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL), based in the US, for its exceptional accomplishments in process and quality-control management, making it the first company outside Japan to win the Deming Prize.
The Toyota Production System is known for kaizen, where all line personnel are expected to stop their moving production line in case of any abnormality and, along with their supervisor, suggest an improvement to resolve the abnormality which may initiate a kaizen.
Another technique used in conjunction with PDCA is the 5 Whys, which is a form of root cause analysis in which the user asks a series of five "why" questions about a failure that has occurred, basing each subsequent question on the answer to the previous. There are normally a series of causes stemming from one root cause, and they can be visualized using fishbone diagrams or tables. The Five Whys can be used as a foundational tool in personal improvement, or as a means to create wealth.
In the Toyota Way Fieldbook, Liker and 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. Kaizen facilitators generally[weasel words] go through training and certification before attempting a Kaizen project.
In the 1990s, Professor Iwao Kobayashi published his book 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement and created a practical, step-by-step improvement framework called "the 20 Keys". He identified 20 operations focus areas which should be improved to attain holistic and sustainable change. He went further and identified the 5 levels of implementation for each of these 20 focus areas. 4 of the focus areas are called Foundation Keys. According to the 20 Keys, these foundation keys should be launched ahead of the others in order to form a strong constitution in the company. The four foundation keys are:
- Key 1 - Cleaning and Organising to Make Work Easy, which is based on the 5S methodology.
- Key 2 - Goal Alignment/Rationalising the System
- Key 3 - Small Group Activities
- Key 4 - Leading and Site Technology
- Business process reengineering
- Kanban, Kanban Method
- Experiential learning
- Management fad
- Mottainai, a sense of regret concerning waste
- Muda (Japanese term)
- Overall equipment effectiveness
- Quality circle
- Six Sigma
- Statistical process control
- Theory of constraints
- Total productive maintenance
- TRIZ, the theory of inventive problem solving
- Visual control
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- 5 Whys
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- Scotchmer, Andrew (2008). 5S Kaizen in 90 Minutes. Management Books 2000 Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85252-547-7.
- Bodek, Norman (2010). How to do Kaizen: A new path to innovation - Empowering everyone to be a problem solver. Vancouver, WA, US: PCS Press. ISBN 978-0-9712436-7-5.
- Kobayashi, Iwao (1995). 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement. Portland, OR, USA: Productivity, Inc. ISBN 1-56327-109-5.
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