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
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
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
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
In case you missed it, my last post was 3 common rules of KAIZEN™ Mindset
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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
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Lillrank, P., N. Kano (1989). Continuous Improvement: Quality Control Circles in Japanese Industry, Center
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Womack P. James, Jones T. Daniel, Roos Daniel (1990). The Machine That Changed the World, Free Press.