Gemba KAIZEN™:The Commonsense, Low- Cost Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy

Today’s managers often try to apply sophisticated tools and technologies to deal with problems that can be solved with a common-sense, low- cost approach. They need to unlearn the habit of trying ever more sophisticated technologies to solve everyday problems. Furthermore, leaders must embrace KAIZEN™ and business excellence not as a tool or technique but as a never-finished pillar of their strategy.

Putting common sense into practice is the subject of this book. It is for everybody: managers, engineers, supervisors, and rank and file employees. Along with putting common sense into practice, Gemba KAIZEN™ deals with the roles of managers and the need to develop a learning organization. I believe that one of the roles of top management should be to challenge all managers to attain ever higher goals. In turn, first-line supervisors need to challenge workers to do a better job all the time. Unfortunately, many managers today have long ceased to play such a role.

Another problem besetting most companies today is the tendency to place too much emphasis on teaching knowledge, while disregarding group learning of fundamental values derived from common sense, self- discipline, order, and economy my. Good management should strive to lead the company to learn these values while achieving “lean management.”

There are two approaches to problem solving. The first involves innovation—applying the latest high -cost technology, such as state- of- theart computers and other tools, and investing a great deal of money. The second uses commonsense tools, checklists, and techniques that do not cost much money. This approach is called kaizen. KAIZEN™ involves everybody— starting with the CEO in the organization—planning and working together for success. This book will show how KAIZEN™ can achieve significant improvement as an essential building block that prepares the company for truly rewarding accomplishments.

Back to Basics: Housekeeping, Muda Elimination, and Standardization

During the past 27 years since KAIZEN™ was first published, many have looked for and asked “what is next?” but many times they are overlooking what is directly in front of them. We must go back to the basics and ask how well we have kept a steady, long-term focus on kaizen. Everyone in the company must work together to follow three ground rules for practicing KAIZEN™ in the gemba:

  • Housekeeping
  • Muda elimination
  • Standardization

Housekeeping is an indispensable ingredient of good man agement. Through good housekeeping, employees acquire and practice self -discipline. Employees without self-discipline make it impossible to provide products or services of good quality to the customer.

In Japanese, the word Muda means waste. Any activity that does not add value is muda. People in the Gemba either add value or do not add value. This is also true for other resources, such as machines and materials.Suppose a company’s employees are adding nine parts Muda for every one part value. Their productivity can be doubled by reducing Muda to eight parts and increasing the added value to two parts. Muda elimination can be the most cost-effective way to improve productivity and reduce operating costs. KAIZEN™ emphasizes the elimination of Muda in the Gemba rather than the increasing of investment in the hope of adding value.

A simple example illustrates the cost benefits of kaizen. Suppose that operators assembling a household appliance are standing in front of their workstations to put certain parts into the main unit. The parts for assembly are kept in a large container behind the operators. The action of turning around to pick up a part takes an operator five seconds, while actual assembly time is only two seconds.

Now let’s assume the parts are placed in front of the operator. The operator simply extends his or her arms forward to pick up a part—an action that takes only a second. The operators can use the time saved to concentrate on the (value- adding) assembly. A simple change in the location of the parts—eliminating the Muda involved in the action of reaching behind—has yielded a four -second time gain that translates into a three fold increase in productivity!

Such small improvements in many processes gradually accumulate, leading to significant quality improvement, cost benefits, and productivity improvements. Applying such an approach throughout all management activities, especially at top management levels, gradually achieves a just -in -time, Lean management system by teaching people the skills to see their work in a new way and by teaching them the skills to change how they work. By contrast, management primarily focused on innovation and breakthroughs might be inclined to buy software, equipment or capabilities that would enable the organization to perform their work much faster. But this would not eliminate the Muda inherent in the current system. Furthermore, investing in the new device or capability costs money, while eliminating Muda costs nothing. We must innovate, but on a foundation of kaizen. The case study from Densho Engineering and others in this book reveal how this is done.

The third ground rule of KAIZEN™ practices in the Gemba is standardization. Standards may be defined as the best way to do the job. For products or services created as a result of a series of processes, a certain standard must be maintained at each process in order to assure quality. Maintaining standards is a way of assuring quality at each process and preventing the recurrence of errors.

As a general rule of thumb, introducing good housekeeping in the Gemba reduces the failure rate by 50 percent, and standardization further reduces the failure rate by 50 percent of the new figure. Yet many managers elect to introduce statistical process control and control charts in the Gemba without making efforts to clean house, eliminate Muda, or standardize.

Supporting these rules of KAIZEN™ is the foundation of the house of gemba—namely, the use of such human-centered activ ities as learning together, teamwork, morale enhancement, self -discipline, quality circles, and suggestions. These are all methods not only for generating improve – ments in safety, quality and cost, but positive means to KAIZEN™ and develop our people.

Management (especially Western management) must regain the power of common sense and start applying it in the gemba. These low- cost practices will provide management with the opportunity for a future phase of rapid growth via innovation—something Western management excels at. When Western management combines KAIZEN™ with its innovative ingenuity, it will greatly improve its competitive strength.

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