The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement”. It comes from the Japanese words(“kai”) which means “change” or “to correct” and (“zen”) which means “for good or better”. Kaizen is a system that involves every employee – from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous.In japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, a total of 60 to 70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.

In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste. Kaizen is based on making changes anywhere that improvements can be made.

Western philosophy may be summarized as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Kaizen philosophy is to “do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn’t broken, because if we don’t, we can’t compete with those who do.”

Kaizen in Japan is a system of improvement.Kaizen involves setting standards and then continually improving those standards. To support the higher standards Kaizen also involves providing the training, materials and supervision that is needed for employees to achieve the higher standards and maintain their ability to meet those standards on an on-going basis.

The term Kaizen is used in two ways. The first use is consistent with the phrase continuous improvement. It represents a basic tenet of human endeavour. The second use is as the label for a group of methods that improve work processes and workplaces.

Kaizen as Continuous Improvement

In its first use, Kaizen means the pursuit of perfection in all one does. In this sense, Kaizen is synonymous with the concept of continuous improvement that is a fundamental part of both the Quality Model and Lean thinking. In a business context, it exemplified in all activities, personal and teamed, that leverage learning to make processes better at satisfying customer requirements. As the principle of continuous improvement, Kaizen has its origins in W. Edwards Deming’s 14 points. Point 5 states, “Improve constantly and forever” the system of production and service (Deming, 1982).

Kaizen as Methods for Work Process Improvement

In its second use, Kaizen identifies a group of problem solving methods for making work process improvements. The methods that have been placed under the label Kaizen are varied and range from suggestion systems (referred to as Teian Kaizen) to planned events conducted in the workplace that systematically uncover waste in a work process and workplace and eliminate it (referred to as Gemba Kaizen). In this latter use, Kaizen’s origins are in World War II (Huntzinger, 2002; Kato, 2006). Kaizen, then known as Job Methods training, a component of the War Department’s Training Within Industry program, was a simple and effective process that enabled supervisors in concert with workers to devise ways to greatly improve the yield from work processes. Its development was spurred by the World War II necessity to produce very much more of everything that was needed for the war effort, faster than anyone ever had done in the past. Before going further into Kaizen’s origins as a method for making improvements, let’s clarify the varieties of methods that now fall under the label Kaizen.

Kaizen approach to software development:


Using Kaizen principles in software development also results in products of improved quality. If developers are held accountable – by their peers – for those components of an application for which they are responsible, the resulting system will be of a higher quality. In terms of psychology, accountability to peers is far more powerful than accountability to superiors, as staffs has morale and desire to do a good job when accomplishing personal and team goals. In contrast, when developers are rushed to simply ‘get a product out of the door’ at the cost of quality, morale decreases. The result is a vicious cycle, in which the unmotivated developer does not produce work of a high quality.

Additionally, the Kaizen approach reduces the costs of development. When a problem is detected too late and an erroneous piece of software enters production, the final cost of developing that component is three times what it would cost to do it right the first time. This is due to the fact that the organization pays for the initial development, the time to fix it and, most elusively, in lost opportunity cost.


Varieties of Kaizen Methods

The collection of Kaizen methods can be organized into the following categories:

Description: http://www.vitalentusa.com/images/black_b.gif Individual versus teamed,
Description: http://www.vitalentusa.com/images/black_b.gif Day-to-day versus special event, and
Description: http://www.vitalentusa.com/images/black_b.gif Process level versus sub process level.

Individual Versus Teamed While almost all Kaizen approaches use a teamed approach, there is the method described as Teian Kaizen or personal Kaizen (Japan Human Relations Association, 1990). Teian Kaizen refers to individual employees uncovering improvement opportunities in the course of their day-to-day activities and making suggestions. It does not include making the change itself, but simply the suggestion for the change. However, when used at Toyota within its suggestion system, the employee suggesting the change is the one who almost always makes the change (see The Suggestion System Is no Suggestion). We also use the same term and mean a personal Kaizen wherein a worker uses our Kaizen method (documented in theKaizen Desk Reference Standard) to improve his or her own job. This effort also unfolds on a day-to-day basis. To my knowledge, all other uses of Kaizen are teamed efforts.

Day-to-Day Versus Special Event

Another example of a day-to-day Kaizen approach is Quality Circles. Here, a natural work team (people working together in the same area, operating the same work process) uses its observations about the work process to identify opportunities for improvement. During any day or perhaps at the end of the week, the team meets and selects a problem from an earlier shift to correct. They analyse its sources, generate ideas for how to eliminate it, and make the improvement. This continuous improvement of the work process is made in the context of regular worker meetings.

Special event Kaizens are currently most common. These methods plan ahead and then execute a process improvement over a period of days. When they focus at the sub process level, take place at the work site eliminate waste in a component of a value stream. These special events are performed in the Gemba—meaning, “where the real work is being done”—e.g., on the shop floor or at the point where are service is being delivered.

Process Level Versus Sub process Level

Most times, Kaizen refers to improvements made at the sub process level—meaning, at the level of a component work process. For example, imagine the end-to-end production process associated with manufacturing shoes. This is also termed the value stream. It includes the activities of acquiring materials (inputs) from suppliers, transforming them into shoes (output) and delivering them to customers. One sub process would be the set of operations that apply the sole to the shoe. Gemba Kaizen, also referred to as Point Kaizen, is an example of this level of Kaizen. On the other hand, there is Flow Kaizen or Kaikaku Kaizen. This improvement activity seeks radical improvements at the value stream or business level.

The Common Elements All Kaizen methods that include making change (as opposed to just suggesting a change) have these common features. They:

Description: http://www.vitalentusa.com/images/black_b.gif Focus on making improvements by detecting and eliminating waste,
Description: http://www.vitalentusa.com/images/black_b.gif Use a problem solving approach that observes how the work process operates, uncovers waste, generates ideas for how to eliminate waste, and makes improvements, and
Use measurements to describe the size of the problem and the effects of the improvement.



Benefits of KAIZEN

Kaizen involves every employee in making change—in most cases small, incremental changes. It focuses on identifying problems at their source, solving them at their source, and changing standards to ensure the problem stays solved. It’s not unusual for Kaizen to result in 25 to 30 suggestions per employee, per year, and to have over 90% of those implemented.

For example, Toyota is well-known as one of the leaders in using Kaizen. In 1999 at one U.S. plant, 7,000 Toyota employees submitted over 75,000 suggestions, of which 99% were implemented. These continual small improvements add up to major benefits. They result in improved productivity, improved quality, better safety, faster delivery, lower costs, and greater customer satisfaction. On top of these benefits to the company, employees working in Kaizen-based companies generally find work to be easier and more enjoyable—resulting in higher employee morale and job satisfaction, and lower turn-over.

With every employee looking for ways to make improvements, you can expect results such as:

Kaizen Reduces Waste in areas such as inventory, waiting times, transportation, worker motion, employee skills, over production, excess quality and in processes.

Kaizen Improves space utilization, product quality, use of capital, communications, production capacity and employee retention.

Kaizen Provides immediate results. Instead of focusing on large, capital intensive improvements, Kaizen focuses on creative investments that continually solve large numbers of small problems. Large, capital projects and major changes will still be needed, and Kaizen will also improve the capital projects process, but the real power of Kaizen is in the on-going process of continually making small improvements that improve processes and reduce waste.

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