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The Kaizen Protocol (改善)
Kaizen (改善), is the 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. t has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. By improving standardized programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste. Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after the Second World War, 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”, with 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-twentieth 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”