KAIZEN™: Brings comprehensive & long term results

Total quality control (TQC) means organized KAIZEN™ activities involving everyone in a company –

managers and workers – in a totally systemic and integrated effort toward improving performance

at every level. It is to lead to increased customer satisfaction through satisfying such corporate

cross-functional goals as quality, cost, scheduling, manpower development, and new product

development. In Japan, TQC activities are not limited to quality control only. Elaborate system

strategies have been also developed with the view of improving managerial performance at all

levels.

KAIZEN™ is the philosophy of incremental continuous improvement with the involvement of everyone.

At first glance everything is pretty clear and simple - what you need to do is to improve the

processes around to make things more efficient. However, the first obstacle which appears on the

way to improvement usually starts with few questions: what to improve, why to improve, who shall

improve, where to improve, how far to improve, how much it will cost. All these questions are

answered by Kaizen. This philosophy stresses the high importance of the working environment as

the actual place of improvement and the source of information regarding improvement areas.

Everything that creates wastes of resources - time, emotions, financial resources, raw materials,

unnecessary steps - might be improved. The real life advantages of this approach were observed in

the case of Toyota Motor Corporation. The company sought to maximize the waste elimination and

error-free production by introducing real-time alert system on the operations level. This system

allowed ground floor employees to stop the production line if problems occurred. The major

message of Imai about KAIZEN™ is that continuous improvements cost nothing but might significantly

improve the overall process. However, prior to rushing to improving drawbacks an individual shall

evaluate the consequences of change as well as the degree of its urgency and its usefulness for the

work process. 

In the 1980s, with the globalization of Japanese businesses, KAIZEN™ became globally known.

According to Imai KAIZEN™ “…was originally developed in Toyota and spread among other Japanese

manufacturers as they gained fame in the international market for higher quality products.”(Imai, 1986) Following their expansion worldwide, Japanese multinational manufacturing companies tried to duplicate the quality management methods within their new factories. When Japanese firms

endeavored to increase local procurement of intermediate inputs, local suppliers were requested to

conform to Japan’s quality standards. Thus, Japanese companies often assisted their local partners

in learning the KAIZEN™ philosophy and practices. Accordingly, the Japan International Cooperation

Agency (JICA) began to rely on the KAIZEN™ management style to transform the industrial activities

of a number of developing countries.

The Japanese make a distinction between KAIZEN™ and innovation: KAIZEN™ is gradual, uses small

steps, conventional know-how and a lot of common sense, while innovation is viewed as being

more radical because it comes in big steps. Again, there are discrepancies in the concept of

innovation between Japanese and Western companies. Innovation in the West is seen as a

unilateral, costly and dramatic breakthrough, the results of which are tremendous. On the contrary,

KAIZEN™ effectiveness is not immediate but brings about comprehensive and long-term results. The

fact that KAIZEN™, in contrast with the Western concept of innovation, does not involve sophisticated

techniques and state of the art technology, as well as big investments, is crucially important from

the point of view of SME in the actual global economic crisis.

Another difference of approach between Japanese and Western companies is related to the concept

of total quality control (TQC). In Japan, it is based on the input of the market, rather than the output

of products. The Japanese are traditionally sensitive toward the needs of the customers and this is

an important aspect of KAIZEN™ as a strategy of total quality control. Its orientation toward the

customers is, therefore, crucial. This is one of the “secrets” of the success of Japanese products

worldwide.

For most Western companies KAIZEN™ involves a significant change in the corporate culture. This is

the key. The attitudes of employees, from top management down to new hires will need to change.

KAIZEN™ is not a formally adopted method, but involves a transformation of the working

environment and needs to become something all employees do because they want to, and because

they know it is good for them and the company.

When The Machine That Changed the World was first published in 1990, Toyota was half the size

of General Motors. Today Toyota is the world's largest auto maker and is the most consistently

successful global enterprise of the past fifty years. This management classic was the first book to

reveal Toyota's Lean production system that is the basis for its enduring success.

In "KAIZEN™," Mr. Imai reduced much of his theory to simple and straight forward insights: What

needed most improvement in most businesses, he argued, were QCD, or Quality, Cost and

Delivery. That tendency continued in Gemba Kaizen. The nutshell of this book is the idea of

gemba. Roughly translated, Gemba is where the action is. In an industrial or corporate setting,

Gemba is the "place where products or services are formed." The idea is interesting because Gemba

is a spatial concept, not an idea used to organize an activity, as most management theories are.

But Gemba does have the effect of shifting attention from individual employees to the workplace

and thus looking at the spatial arrangements that impose limitations on productivity improvements.

American companies tend to regard space as incidental, except perhaps as it reflects hierarchy and

power. Most American executives would say the real business of business takes place in the

executive suite. The factory floor simply executes the plan 

Gemba KAIZEN™ offers an alternative to that analysis. Mr. Imai would probably say he could walk the

floor or office complex of any American company and discern where the real action is — the

flattening of the humps that services must get over to provide genuine customer satisfaction or

a moment in the manufacturing process when it is clear a quality product will roll off the assembly

line. 

In case you missed it, my last post was 3 common rules of KAIZEN™ Mindset

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REFERENCES

Cheser, R. (1994). KAIZEN™ is More Than Continuous Improvement, Quality Progress, April, pp. 23-26.

Imai, Masaaki (1986). KAIZEN™: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company,

New York NY.

Kandebo, S. W. (1995). Sikorsky Boosts Quality, Cuts Costs with KAIZEN™, Aviation Week & Space

Technology, 1 May, pp. 39-40.

Lillrank, P., N. Kano (1989). Continuous Improvement: Quality Control Circles in Japanese Industry, Center

for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI.

Robinson, A., ed. (1991). Continuous Improvement in Operations: A Systematic Approach to Waste

Reduction, Productivity Press, Cambridge MA.

Stuart, M., E. Mullins, and E. Drew (1996). Statistical Quality Control and Improvement, European Journal

of Operations Research, Vol. 88, pp. 203-214.

Womack P. James, Jones T. Daniel, Roos Daniel (1990). The Machine That Changed the World, Free Press.

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