Kaizen is perhaps one of the most commonly used terms when it comes to process improvement methodologies.
Kaizen (改善 ) is a Japanese term meaning “Change for the better” or “improvement”. It originates from two Japanese words – “kai” (改)which means “change” or “to correct” and “zen” (善 )which means “good”. It is most commonly translated into English as “Continuous Improvement”. It works on the basis that nothing can ever become perfect, and there is always something that can be improved.
Some fundamental concepts of Kaizen
- It is about making small, incremental, positive changes, and building on those little successes. Each positive change might not seem like much at the time, but they all add up.
- It is used to bring about small, incremental improvements, which, if pursued for some time and in proper manner, compound to very significant results.
- It relies on improvement even when things are not broken, and sees this as the only way to stay ahead of competitors and rivals.
- It involves all the employees of the organization – from the top management as well as the bottom level.
- The long term objective of Kaizen is to develop a culture, when staff buy into a philosophy they are more likely to embrace it, and their activities will be align to the business objectives of the organization.
Toyota & Kaizen
Toyota is possibly the most famous adopter of the Kaizen principle. Today it is one of the car giants’ core values and therefore central to their philosophy and outlook. Toyota is widely known for its use of Kaizen thinking. Small improvements are suggested by everyone in the organization, from the cleaning staff and assembly-line workers all the way up to the top executives. While many of these suggestions yield only incremental improvements, their compounded effect is to dramatically improve organizational efficiency. As a result, their production lines are streamlined, the quality of their products is widely respected, and workers have a say in improving the processes they are directly involved in.
Toyota has taken Kaizen to new height by incorporating many concepts, tools & techniques from Industrial Engineering & Scientific management and developed into a management system known as Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS, in turn, became the foundation of Lean Production System.
Benefits of Kaizen
Some of the common benefits of Kaizen are:
- Increased productivity
- Reduce waste ( eg inventory, over-production, over-processing, waiting times, transportation and motion and defects)
- Better resource management (eg human resources, space utilization, use of capital)
- Improved quality
- Better safety
- Lower costs
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Improved communication and cooperation
- Improved morale and employee satisfaction
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