Very few people may know that the famous quality improvement technique ‘Kaizen’ actually evolved and contributed from work of Americans who helped rebuild Japan post world war!Word Kaizen in English typically means simply improvement and not necessarily continuous improvement. It refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small.
Kaizen is a daily activity, purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, if done correctly, eliminates overly hard work and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work rationally and learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. It has tremendous impact on the efficiency of the organization and its people in short to long term. I personally have felt this in my stints working with some of the well known Japanese conglomerates in Japan and India. The very nature of Japanese people to work at smaller improvements on daily basis leads to great results.
The beauty of Kaizen is that people at all levels of an organization can participate in Kaizen, from the CEO down to external vendors e.g. Japanese Auto giants. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. The Toyota production system is known for kaizen & probably is most efficient production system in Automobile industry leading to most cost and quality competitive.
At the foundation of Kaizen rests elements such as Team work, Personal Discipline, Improved morale, Quality circles, Suggestions for improvement.5S framework which enables Kaizen success and helps in controlling wastes (Muda) and increases productivity includes, Seiri – tidiness, Seiton – orderliness, Seiso – cleanliness, Seiketsu – standardized clean-up, Shitsuke – discipline.
While Kaizen being hugely successful in manufacturing and industrial firms, also has had some critics who claimed that even though it works perfectly fine at the low level improvements, it does not encourage high level of creativity. However a valid viewpoint, we must remember that biggest room in the world is room for improvement and it needs to be applied both at the top for creative ideas for quantum results and Kaizen like techniques at the bottom level for the real desired impact!
Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional