Kaizen: One small step can make a difference

March 26, 2012

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen in Japanese means good (zen) change (kai). It is known as the Japanese technique of achieving success through small improvements, steady changes or steps. The methodology of Kaizen includes making small changes to a task or activity and monitoring the results then adjusting properly based on the feedback. At the same time a key aspect of the Kaizen methodology is that it empowers everyone within the organization to suggest or recommend a change. I think this key aspect is of high importance for Kaizen to work within an
organization. In order for managers and executives to be able to implement Kaizen successfully, they have to be able to communicate, listen and encourage to their workers to bring ideas, changes and feedback to them. They have to make everyone be part of the team and feel appreciated for making a difference. The scope of the change or suggested improvement should be small enough to be measured and routinely checked but large enough to notice the value of the change. There is newly method of using Kaizen in which a particular issue is changed during a week’s time, this is known as “kaizen blitz”, and a limited scope is addressed. Kaizen focus on continuous improvement practices can be applied to a professional environment or to your own personal life. In terms of industries using Kaizen, it has been applied to many major industries such as healthcare, construction, life-coaching, banking and even government. Kaizen can be structured individually, in small groups, large working groups within the same department or cross-departmental.
Toyota is the company known for using Kaizen across the entire company. Toyota Production System is built around Kaizen methodology.

Implementation – Best Case: Toyota Production System

There are many books and case studies written about how to implement Kaizen successfully within a company or department but greatest and most factual example of implementing Kaizen is in Toyota.
Toyota Production System is built around the concept that all personnel in the line are empowered and expected to stop their ongoing production in case of any quality issue or abnormality and suggest, along with their supervisor, an improvement to resolve the problem. The main purpose of the implementation of Kaizen at Toyota is for the sole purpose of eliminating waste, could be due to overproduction, excess inventory or defects. The way Toyota was able to implement this innovative concept is to allow for continuous improvement from the people affected by that activity or task so that any employee can grow in a learning experience and be part of improving the state of the company.
The main cycle of Kaizen activity is defined as PDCA, also known as Shewhart cycle.
1. Plan – Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results 2. Do – Implement the plan, execute the process, make the product 3. Check – Evaluate the actual results measured and collected based on “DO” and compare against the expected results. This outcome will provide with the difference and what you need for the next step 4. Act – Ask for corrective actions to be taken on the noticeable differences between actual vs. planned results
More importantly I think the five building blocks and elements of Kaizen is what made Toyota successful at implementing Kaizen. These five building blocks are teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles and suggestions for improvement. Without the proper implementation and continuous encouragement of these elements, Kaizen cannot succeed within an organization. In my personal opinion and work experience, the implementation of these five elements can be very difficult as each department or individual has to put their own benefit aside and be genuine about the overall good of the company. This fundamental concept I perceive as the biggest challenge for Kaizen to succeed in today’s society. Individuals are looking for their gratification and personal gain instead of the collaboration and teamwork for the greater outcome of a company or community.
With the implementation of the Kaizen processes, Toyota became the largest car manufacturer in 2007 and was as profitable as all other companies combined.

Using Kaizen in your Personal life

For my own benefit in the execution of this blog, I purchased the book “The Kaizen Way” by Dr. Robert Maurer. In this book, Dr. Maurer uses the concept of Kaizen to walk through and teach the reader about how to improve their life by making small changes in your daily life that can improve your health, behavior, new skills or outlook of life. In the book, the author provides several life scenarios in which he improved the life of people’s health by using the Kaizen concept. In today’s society, everyone wants instant results whether is losing weight or making more money overnight. Dr. Maurer explains how long term results can be achieved through performing small actions, thinking small thoughts and asking small questions. Since I read the book, I have obtained great ideas and knowledge on approaching and resolving daily problems by following the Kaizen steps and techniques outline in the book. I recommend the book to anyone that would like to improve their life. Think small steps and you will succeed.

By: Ruben Martinez-Raposo

“Kaizen – Continuous Improvement”
http://www.toyota-forklifts.co.uk/EN/company/Toyota-Production-System/Kaizen/Pages/default.aspx The Kaizen Way: one small step can change your life” by Robert Maurer, Ph. D


3 Responses to “Kaizen: One small step can make a difference”

  1. Min Sun said

    When I was working in Japan company, I was told that do not purchase things easily, we can find a substitute or repair some old stuff to use. This is a kind of Kaizen.

  2. Mike Gann said

    I like the embodiment of the ‘team’ idea in Kaizan. It’s refelcted in what I’ve read about Japanese office settings. For example, a co-worker will actually formally apologize to their team if they have to leave early for some reason. Etiquette is a major part of culture there and it fits in pretty well with the Kaizen idea.

  3. Robin Martinez said

    As a concept this seems like it would be obvious or intuitive but sometimes I think it’s hard to look at things in this way. I’m most interested in how Kaizen can be used in one’s personal life. Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll have to check that out.

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