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Continuous Process Improvement- The Kaizen Approach: Extended Entry

Kaizen is the Japanese strategy for continuous improvement. The main goal of kaizen is to eliminate waste. This strategy is similar to lean manufacturing, with a few differences. The kaizen approach focuses on continuous improvement in all aspects of life. For a business; the kaizen approach works at continually improving all the functions of a company from the CEO down to the assembly line of workers.

Toyota Motor Company was one of the first Japanese businesses to implement Kaizen. After World War II, Kaizen was adopted by several Japanese companies to help rebuild after the war. Since this time, kaizen has become so successful, that it has spread to several businesses throughout the world.

How kaizen works in business.
Kaizen calls for never-ending methods of improvement. It goes beyond simply improving productivity. Kaizen is a process and if it is done correctly, it will help to humanize the workplace, eliminate hard work, and will teach people how to perform to the best of their abilities and reduce waste in the manufacturing process.

The 3 principles of kaizen.
Kaizen has 3 main principles that must be implemented if it is to operate properly.

  • First, you must consider the process and the results. The process and results will surface the actions needed to achieve the correct results.

  • - Second, you must have a systematic thinking of the entire process instead of just the immediate problems. This is simply to avoid creating or missing problems in other parts of the process.

  • - Third, you need to approach kaizen with a non-judgmental, non-blaming, and learning method. This allows for the re-examination of assumptions that were part of the current process.

Helpful Resources:
Wikipedia provides an excellent definition of the Kaizen approach. They discuss not only what Kaizen means, but how Toyota used Kaizen to reduce waste and create the Toyota Production System.

Lean Manufacturing
This web site discusses lean manufacturing and kaizen. It discusses the different approaches companies take with kaizen, including mini kaizen. You can link to several other articles for more information about lean manufacturing.

How it can Help
This web site discusses continuous process improvement and how it can help your company. It also provides information about why you should hire a consulting firm to help you implement continuous process improvement.

Training to Use Kaizen
This web site provides information about kaizen and how you can train yourself to implement kaizen into your work environment. It also discusses how kaizen will help your company become successful.

History of Kaizen
This is a brief definition of continuous process improvement (kaizen). It discusses the history of kaizen and the skills you will need in order to successfully implement continuous process improvement.

Improve Your Company
This web site discusses kaizen and how Japanese companies implemented kaizen to improve their company. You can order a kaizen kit from their web site to start implementing kaizen in your company.

Continuous Process Improvement
This web site provides information about kaizen and how the western culture calls it continuous process improvement. You can order kaizen software from their web site and start implementing it in your company.

Definition of Kaizen
This web site provides a good definition of what kaizen is and how it can go to work for your company. Vorne also provides products that you can purchase to help implement kaizen into your company.

Eliminate Waste
Business basics discusses kaizen and how your company can improve by implementing it. It breaks down 5 tips you can use to eliminate waste and expands upon the lean manufacturing approach to reducing waste.

Implementing Kaizen
This web site discusses kaizen and how your company can implement it. It also provides information about the Toyota approach to lean manufacturing to reduce or eliminate waste from the workplace.

Everyone in the company needs to adopt the 3 principles of kaizen in order to make it work. Kaizen can be formatted individually, within a small group, a large group, or as a suggestion system. Toyota has several small groups work at improving their area for productivity and overall efficiency. The group is overseen by a line supervisor who reports to upper management. Within Toyota kaizen delivers small improvements that add up to make larger improvements. This is why kaizen is called a "continuous process improvement" system or a "continual improvement".

Kaizen works by making changes and monitoring the results and then making necessary adjustments. Obviously, the Toyota Production System is known for using kaizen. Within Toyota, all personnel is expected to stop moving production lines if there is any slight notification of abnormalities. The employee is then expected to suggest an improvement to resolve the abnormality (this initiates kaizen).

Kaizen and Management.
Management is in charge of maintenance and improvement within the company. Maintenance is about maintaining the current managerial, technological, and operating standards. Improvement focuses on improving the current standards. With kaizen thinking, the maintenance function will establish a set of rules, policies, directives, and standard operating procedures. From here, management must make everyone work at following the standard operating procedures. Typically this assignment is given to human resources to develop a letter that will site discipline for failure to adhere to the standard operating procedures. As far as improvement goes, management will always towards revising the current standards and establishing better ones. Kaizen uses small improvements over a specific period of time and result in coordinated continuous efforts by every employee at the company.

The kaizen cycle.
Here is how the kaizen cycle of activity works (according to popular businesses):

  • standardize an operation ?

  • - measure the standardized operation (find cycle time and amount of in-process inventory) ?

  • - gauge measurements against requirements ?

  • - innovate to meet requirements and increase productivity ?

  • - standardize the new, improved operations ?

  • - continue cycle ad infinitum.

Several companies call this the Shewhart cycle, PDCA, or Deming cycle. No matter what you call it, the main focus is the same, continuous process improvement.

Mini Kaizen
Some companies have taken a quick and easy approach to kaizen. Mini kaizen still aims at increasing productivity and quality, but it also works at improving the satisfaction of workers. This methodology teaches that every employee should be encouraged to come up with new and innovative ideas, no matter how big or small they are. These ideas should directly improve this employee's job, whether it is the job environment, job activity or another company process. The employee is then encouraged to implement their ideas as a small change. This change should be done by the employee, with a minimal investment of time.

The reason many companies have adopted mini kaizen is because it encourages the development of their employees along with the reduction of waste. Mini kaizen teaches employees to grow within the company. Though the mini kaizen ideas are small, with each employee implementing one idea, the cumulative effect is tremendous.

Lean manufacturing and kaizen.
Both kaizen and lean manufacturing want to reduce or eliminate waste, provide a smooth workflow and provide customer satisfaction. Lean manufacturing was inspired by kaizen to a large degree. Companies who combine kaizen with lean manufacturing empower their employees to improve processes, build customer relationships, develop defect-free products and collaborate with suppliers.

Continuous process improvement.
Kaizen is referred to continuous process improvement in western culture. In order to be successful with continuous process improvement, your company must be willing to work hard at inspiring everyone within the organization. You all need to work together to achieve a better way of understanding how the different processes within your organization work and what you can do to make them better. Your company must require a change in its employees instead of merely accept the continuous process improvement methodology. If you just accept continuous process improvement, and don't actually do anything within your company, you will notice the small problems will continue to get worse.

Several companies need to outsource to identify and implement continuous process improvement because they do not have the management or necessary skills to work at doing it. Think back 10 years ago to companies like Iomega. At one point in time, their zip disk was one of the most popular new inventions in the computer industry. Now, Iomega has declared bankruptcy, laid off several thousand employees and has almost completely shut its doors forever. Why? Simple, they did not implement continuous process improvement to look at the future. The second other mass storage devices came out (like USBs); Iomega was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Companies like Iomega stayed on a plateau while their competitors recognized the future needs and worked harder at improving their shortcomings and introduced new innovations to the market. Overconfidence, poor planning, excessive spending, and the inability to properly promote products is often the downfall of several large businesses.

Identifying problems.

Many companies have the necessary time, management and skills needed in order to implement continuous process improvement without outside help. Other companies have no idea where to begin. These companies need to hire a third party to come in and evaluate how continuous process improvement can help their company. Here are a few key questions you need to consider:

  • Are our competitors still outshining us even though we work as fast and as hard as we can?

  • - Do we have a good pricing model? Does our pricing model bring in enough profitability for the company?

  • - How is our management? Does our upper level management demand better performance and we cannot achieve it due to the fact we are working at our maximum capacity?

Hiring a consultant or a third-party company to implement continuous process improvement may be the best option for you. These consultants are trained to observe and dismiss all the small "excuses" your company can come up with. Many companies will have similar complaints like "the machine is too big to move, so that is why the work area can't be kept clean" or "the tools we need are too expensive or they cannot be located next to the operator of the machine." A successful consultant will avoid your excuses and flat out tell you what needs to change and how to do it. Often these consultants are trained to think that less is more. This means you will hear about less travel distance, less complexity, shorter instructions, etc. By having an outside consultant evaluate your company, you are sure to obtain an un-biased opinion of what needs to change in order to be a successful company.

If you are an open-minded company, then you will listen to what the consultant is telling you and you will do something about it. Far too often, companies will listen and quickly dismiss the advice and findings of the consultant. Denial is often a common excuse for several companies, they know there is a problem, but they don't want to hear someone tell them there is a problem.

If you want your business to survive, you must admit your problems and apply continuous process improvement. If you are not sure where to start, contact a consulting firm today to discuss your options.

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