What is Kaizen?
Kaizen is indentified as a Japanese concept centering around creating a humanized culture of continuous improvement by focusing on the human resources - namely, the workers, supervisors, management and executives of a company, and what each individual and /or group can contribute. From efficient work habits, morale, and experience to product and production improvements, it is meant to promote acceptance of ideas and to improve employee satisfaction and involvement.
After WWII, when Japan was desolated from the effects of the war, America tried to assist Japan rebuild, and enlisted the help of industrial consultants to help stimulate Japan’s manufacturing efforts. Based on a management training film titled “Improvement in Four Steps,” (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai) the term “kaizen” was coined for a new approach to continuous improvement methodologies in industry.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the teachings of such kaizen pioneers as W. Edwards Deming and Homer Sarasohn helped the kaizen philosophy to broaden and prosper.
Toyota Production System (continued on Page 2)
Toyota Production System
As the kaizen system spread, various industries embraced this “microscopic” way of looking at progress. In order to compete with Ford, Toyota made itself the model company for embracing emerging manufacturing methodologies, like kaizen.
In order to keep up with their American competiton, Toyota utilized kaizen, ideas of gemba (in which mangers are expected to motivate and understand the process by way of visiting the actual work floor—not just relying on reports and secondhand accounts), 5S, and others to forge the initial path for modern lean manufacturing.
Kaizen and continuous improvement is a way of life, and not necessarily meant to make changes in an entire company all at once. It is meant to create an environment where every facet of production is expected to look for ways to improve.
If a certain assembly process is wasteful, the kaizen way is to ask line workers and supervisors to create a kaizen event and brainstorm ideas or offer concrete suggestions for improving that specific assembly procedure.
Using the Deming (or Shewhart) cycle as part of the process, PDCA (Plan-Do- Check-Act), a kaizen event seeks to take a small step in the process and analyze it, change for improvement, and then see if that change has improved that step—or not.
Although efficiency and the elimination of waste is a primary goal of kaizen, another achievement is from the creation of a work environment where all of the people who work for the company feel empowered and have an active role in the production improvement process, and ultimately feel an increased investment in the company itself.