Masaaki Imai, venerable for his work on quality management and improvement, invented the single concept of ‘Kaizen’. Kaizen, the Japanese term for a formal system to promote process continuously whilst improving quality, has helped major manufacturing companies, like Toyota to achieve success even in the period of slump.
Post finishing his graduate work in international relations, Imai moved to Washington DC in late 1950, where he worked at the Japanese Productivity Centre, accompanying Japanese businessmen on visits to American plants. On returning to Tokyo in 1962, Imai started his own employment agency, and thereafter, in 1986, founded the Kaizen Institute Consulting Group (KICG) to help western companies to introduce the concepts, systems and tools of Kaizen.
Imai’s work establishes that to start the process of improvement, it is essential that one identifies the need because if problems aren’t acknowledged, there is no recognition of the need for improvement. In order to attain success in any business, it is essential to focus on continuous improvement of processes and detection of the need and problem. He emphasises, “The starting point for improvement is to recognise the need.” To get over a period of slowdown, he proclaims, it is essential that an organisation gets focused on waste reduction and optimial use of resource. It is important that one rejects all non-value adding activities, thereby reducing waste and unnecessary inventories and putting the resources ie,employees, material, machines, space, timeof production, & of course, capital to full use.
This founder of business philosophies, through his work, emphasises that constant improvement is not about complex ideas, it is about a committed mindset – one that is constantly prepared to question the status quo and keep relentless focus on all aspects of business process or operations to see where efficiencies can be gained and waste eliminated. It is also essential that as business managers one walk the shop floor so one can get to know every part of the process where tyre hits road in terms of either manufacturing process or service delivery. Imai accentuated, “The only companies that will survive into the next millennium will be the ones that have the flexibility to produce according to fluctuating demand.”
For the last three decades, Imai, through his works and contributions in the management world, has introduced Kaizen as an integral part of cultural environment. His quality philosophies have made him a worldwide pioneer and leader.