Kaizen, in Japanese, means “good change,” and refers to any type of improvement, one-time or continuous. As a modern management term, kaizen refers to a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement, the philosophy that the Toyota Production System is known for. Kaizen is concerned with reducing waste, or “muda,” through increased productivity and improved quality. As a corollary, kaizen focuses on employee involvement in order to meet its goals.
In the Toyota Production System, the production line is stopped each time there is a problem and employees are responsible for problem solving and coming up with better working practices and personal efficiency to improve quality, productivity and employee involvement. According to The Toyota Way 2001, Kaizen has three components: challenge (employee creativity and empowerment), improvement (a culture that encourages that people fix problems when they see them) and genchi genbutsu (a philisophy that suggests one must go and see for themselves to really understand any problem).
Some challenges that kaizen may focus on include making tasks simpler and easier to perform, re-engineering processes to accommodate the physical demands on team members, increasing the speed and efficiency of the work process, maintaining a safe work environment, and constantly improving the product quality. Typically, the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle or Shewart Cycle is used in implementing kaizen.
Plan: Establish objectives and standardize business operations and activities. Design a system to measure the organization’s movement towards those objectives. What are your requirements?
Act: Collect data to measure your operations. Determining useful information such as cycle-time, in-process inventory, or evaluate data using statistical techniques.
Check: How does the information about your operations measure up against the requirements? Where can you improve?
Do: Problem solve to meet requirements, improve quality, increase productivity and minimize waste. Move on to “Plan” again to standardize your new and improved operations, and set new objectives and requirements.
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