Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) & Quality Circles
This forms part of the ‘Japanese’ approach to management, or ‘Lean Production’.
, or ‘
is a policy of constantly introducing small incremental changes in a business inorder to improve quality and/or efficiency. This approach assumes that employees are the best people to identify roomfor improvement, since they see the processes in action all the time. A firm that uses this approach therefore has tohave a culture that encourages and rewards employees for their contribution to the process.Kaizen can operate at the level of an individual, or through
which are groupsspecifically brought together to identify potential improvements. This approach would also be compatible with
, as improvements could form an important part of the team’s aims.
Key features of Kaizen:
Improvements are based on many, small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise fromResearch and Development
As the ideas come from the workers themselves, they are less likely to be radically different, and thereforeeasier to implement
Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes
The ideas come from the talents of the existing workforce, as opposed to using R&D, consultants orequipment – any of which could be very expensive
All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance
It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work, and can help reinforce team working, therebyimproving worker motivationAs Kaizen is characterised by many, small improvements over time, it contrasts with the major leaps seen in industrywhen radical new technology or production methods have been introduced. Over the years, the sheer volume of Kaizenimprovements can lead to major advances for a firm, but managers cannot afford to overlook the need for radicalchange from time to time. For example, many UK manufacturers and service companies have found it necessary tooutsource processes to cheaper centres such as India and China – these changes would be unlikely to arise from Kaizen.Whilst staff suggestions can help to enrich the work for many employees, Kaizen can be seen as an unrelenting process.Some firms set targets for individuals or for teams to come up with a minimum number of ideas in a period of time.Employees can find this to be an unwelcome pressure, as it becomes increasingly difficult to find further scope forimprovement. Some firms, especially Japanese-owned, conduct quality improvement sessions in the workers’ owntime, which can lead to resentment unless there is appropriate recognition and reward for suggestions.For Kaizen to be effective there has to be a culture of trust between staff and managers, supported by a democraticstructure and a Theory Y view of employees. Good two-way communications and a de-layered organisation would alsosupport this approach. Nevertheless, some workers might see the demands as an extra burden rather than anopportunity and it can take time to embed Kaizen successfully into an organisation’s culture.
See the revision note ‘
Quality – introduction’
for a summary of what determines the quality of a product or service,and why it is important to firms. This revision note looks at ways of controlling and improving quality.
This method checks the quality of completed products for faults. Quality inspectors measure or test every product,samples from each batch, or random samples – as appropriate to the kind of product produced.
- inspection is intended to prevent faulty products reaching the customer. This approach meanshaving specially trained inspectors, rather than every individual being responsible for his or her own work.Furthermore, it is thought that inspectors may be better placed to find widespread problems across anorganisation.