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Improvement can be classified as either continuous improvement, i.e. Kaizen or innovation.

Kaizen & Management Kaizen: A beneficial change

Jan 20, 2017

Kaizen is neither a problem solving technique nor a suggestion scheme but it is a concept which creates a situation where entire organisation engages itself in the quest for improvement. Kaizen basically needs only common sense approach. It is working for continuous improvement as a habitual way of life.

Kaizen is combination of two words - ‘Kai’ meaning change and ‘Zen’ meaning good. Thus Kaizen means change for good, a beneficial change. Kaizen means ongoing improvement in all spheres of life - be it our family, social or work life. When applied to work life, Kaizen means continuous improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike.

Kaizen has joined worldwide vocabulary, together with other Japanese words like Zen, karate, sushi or tempura. Most of Japanese words adopted were from culture, art or cuisine. As Japan’s post war economic miracle, its industrial growth and product quality that attracted the global attention, the words from these areas have now been accepted and adopted in other languages. The 1993 edition of new shorter oxford dictionary defines Kaizen as continuous improvement of work practices, personal efficiency, etc as a business philosophy.

Japan has introduced many management practices like Total Quality Control (TQC), QC circles, small group activities, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Just-In- Time (JIT), Zero defects, Poka-Yoke, 5S, Kanban, etc. All the above practices can be reduced to one word - KAIZEN. Kaizen is an umbrella concept covering all these practices. Basic Kaizen concepts include the following:

  • Kaizen and management

  • Process versus performance & the next process is customer.

  • PDCA/SDCA cycles

Kaizen and management

Every job has two important components. One of them is maintenance. Maintenance refers to activities towards maintaining status quo - technological, managerial and operating standards. Under maintenance function, established standard operating procedure (SOP) is to be followed. This means, first management must establish policies, rules and procedures for all major operations and ensure that all SOP are followed. If people are unable to follow SOP, management must either provide training, or review and revise SOP so that people can follow it. If people are capable to follow the standard but do not follow, management must introduce discipline. The other important component of the job is improvement. Improvement refers to activities directed towards upgrading current standards i.e. to establish higher standards. Once this is achieved it becomes management’s maintenance job to see that the new standard is practiced.

Innovation & Kaizen

Improvement can be classified as either continuous improvement, i.e. Kaizen or innovation. Kaizen and innovation methods are like path leading up a hill versus a staircase. Through innovation, an organisation makes dramatic progress like a hare leaping up a staircase. Through Kaizen, progress is like that of a tortoise, climbing path slowly but steadily. Kaizen signifies small improvements as a result of ongoing efforts. Innovation on the other hand involves drastic improvement, which may be result of a large investment or effort in new technology or equipment, etc. There is relationship between maintenance and improvement activities with the hierarchy of the company. The proportion of time and effort devoted to maintenance and improvement will largely be determined by seniority of the person in the organisation.

Kaizen and innovation are both indispensable for any good organisation. Innovation brings revolutionary changes. Even if great system is established through major innovation, maintaining and improving this system requires lot of effort. Any established system corrodes faster than steel. Hence one should not be blinded by revolutionary innovation and neglect minor or incremental daily improvements. Any lack of focus will result in natural decline away from standard. At the end, one loses the race like the foolish hare who fell asleep after gaining initial lead. On the other hand, a series of small improvements bring steady upliftment. Continuous improvement not only maintains existing standard but also raise those standards. The examples given below shall help in understanding the difference between innovation and Kaizen.

  • If we install a robotic spot welding line, against conventional welding system that is an innovation. When it is ensured that robots are maintained, well lubricated and worn out parts replaced to minimize potential breakdown, then that is maintenance. When the operator reprograms the robots to perform a more efficient sequence of motions between spot- welds in order to shorten the machine cycle then it is Kaizen.

  • When we use inspection to ensure that out of tolerance product do not reach the customer, or a next process, then that is maintenance. When we use control charts, cause and effect diagram, Taguchi techniques to solve problem so that all parts produced are much closer to that nominal value and therefore well within the limits defined by quality standards, then it is Kaizen.

Process versus performance

Processes must be improved for results to improve. Kaizen fosters process-oriented thinking. Process is things we do to transform inputs into specified outputs (goods or services) to be used by next process or person

Process orientation involves review of the variables in any process in order to improve its effectiveness. This helps to improve the organisation’s performance. Various processes in any organisation are interdependent. Each has customers as well as suppliers. Customers are those people or departments who receive work or output of earlier people or departments. Similarly suppliers are those people or departments whose work or output is used by next process or department. In short next process is customer. Internal customers and suppliers have to be looked upon in the same manner as one looks at external customers and suppliers. The internal supplier and customer relationship works like a chain throughout the organisation. It is as strong or as weak as the weakest link. The entire process fails if there are weak links in this chain. The next process should always be treated as customer. The realisation of this axiom should lead to a commitment never to send or deliver defective parts or inaccurate information to next process. When everybody in the organisation practices this axiom, the external customer in the market receives high quality product or service as a result. Organisational performance is the result of the sum total of all processes employed in the organisation. Improving organisational performance requires focussed attention and improvement on various processes. Managing a business by reacting to the results is like driving a car by looking only to rear-view mirror. Results are the after-the-fact measure of performance, a rear-view mirror. Process orientation opens gates to improve performance and devoids inferior products or services to be produced or delivered to the customer.

PDCA / SDCA cycle

Edward Deming’s most significant contribution to Japan’s industrial regeneration was Deming cycle. It is also called Deming wheel, Shewhart, improvement, management, PDCA cycle. Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) operates in cycle which begins with study of current situation, during which data are collected for formulating plan of improvement. ‘Plan’ envisages a target of improvement i.e. it means what to do & how to do. ‘Do’ refers to implementing the plan. After implementation, ‘Check’ stage comes in where results are evaluated to measure about realisation of anticipated improvement. ‘Act’ is the corrective action or countermeasure stage. After evaluation the plan is either revised or repeated or standardisation is done to regularise practicing of new method introduced. This ensures continuous sustained improvement. PDCA is closed loop cycle meaning endless drive to the destination. There is always scope for further improvement. It is a race without finish line. PDCA cycle goes round & round. No sooner improvement is made, and then it becomes a standard to be challenged with new plans for improvement.

It is also necessary to stabilise the standards. The process of stabilisation is called SDCA (Standardise Do-Check-Action) cycle. Upgradation of the current standards through PDCA cycle is possible only when SDCA cycle is at work. Thus both PDCA and SDCA cycles are essential and need to be used always in combination. It is worthwhile to observe that SDCA means maintenance and PDCA refers to improvement.

Kaizen is neither a problem solving technique nor a suggestion scheme but it is a concept which creates a situation where entire organisation engages itself in the quest for improvement. Kaizen is about doing, not putting a proposal or suggestion. Any proposal or suggestion if not implemented or cannot be implemented, is of no practical value. Kaizen basically needs only common sense approach. It is working for continuous improvement as a habitual way of life.☐

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  • Kaizen means continuous improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike.

  • PDCA and SDCA cycles are essential and need to be used always in combination. It is worthwhile to observe that SDCA means maintenance and PDCA refers to improvement.

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