Consider the difficulty of making a big change, perhaps a lifestyle change like losing weight or remodeling a house. In a business environment, the big change could be a merger or the launch of a new product line. In each of these cases, the project can seem overwhelming. An easier way to tackle big changes is to work on breaking projects down into small pieces. Making many small changes which, when taken together, can have a large impact. This essentially is the concept of kaizen.
Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute, published Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986. Since then, kaizen, (kai = change, zen = good), or “good change” has been one of the most successful continuous improvement approaches of the twentieth century. Mark Hamel, in his Kaizen Event Fieldbook, explains that kaizen is a “prerequisite for lean transformation success” as it provides the “necessary transformational jump-start, momentum, organizational learning and engagement, and sustainable, step-function improvements.” The following guiding principles of kaizen, offered by the Kaizen Institute, are designed to support continuous improvement:
- Good processes bring good results
- See for yourself to grasp the current situation
- Speak with data, manage by facts
- Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
- Work as a team
- Kaizen is everybody’s business
Without Kaizen there is No Lean Transformation
One of the core concepts of lean is continuous improvement and this is precisely what the principles of Kaizen echo. Toyota, known for many groundbreaking ideas, also is responsible for the idea of empowering employees. During a time when assembly line workers were more like automatons, Toyota, took the initiative to empower all of its employees with the ability to improve their work environment. It is important to highlight the fact that Kaizen is not a directive from management to employees. Instead, Kaizen is focused on managing proactively and consistently while creating an environment in which employees feel safe and empowered to bring up problems and offer solutions. Every employee is encouraged to have an opinion on aspects that pertain to their job such as quality and safety issues, environmental issues, and any other ideas one might have about boosting productivity, eliminating waste, or adding value to a particular product or service. “While Kaizen continuous improvement initiatives are driven from the bottom, there still needs to be adequate support and direction from management. Once management has created a strategy to empower employees with a way to improve work processes, they must ensure that labor relations are in a place to accept the need for continuous improvement” (Haun, Mothersell & Motwani, 2015).
Kaizen and Lean Are Not Short Term Fixes
Organizational transformation happens when lean methodology meets Kaizen. Lean is focused on eliminating waste, and increasing productivity and value adds for the consumer while Kaizen focuses on continuous improvement. This transformation is not a short term fix for the problem of the day. It is achieved by making incremental changes over time with the goal of improving processes, efficiency, quality, and the overall work environment. Although the tools and techniques of lean may be implemented by managers, everyone is responsible for kaizen.
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References: Haun, J., Mothersell, W.M., & Motwani, J. (2015). Implementing kaizen in the workplace: A case study. International Journal of Management and Behavioral Sciences, 6-7, pp. 321-325.