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Continuous Incremental Improvement Masaaki Imai Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success

"Kaizen" means "continuous improvement". It comes from the Japanese words "Kai" meaning school and "Zen" meaning wisdom. Kaizen was created by Toyota just after WW II. It is a major part of Toyota's lean manufacturing system that has made Toyota the top manufacturer of quality, economical cars. You can learn how to use this key component of Toyota's success and use it to help grow your business.

Kaizen is... ... a system of continuous incremental improvement in quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety and leadership. "change for the better" or "improvement"; incremental change Originally a Buddhist term, Kaizen comes from the words, "Renew the heart and make it good." Therefore, adaptation of the Kaizen concept also requires changes in "the heart of the business", corporate culture and structure

I ) What is Kaizen?
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. 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

Foundation of the Kaizen Method

Team work Personal Discipline Improved Morale Quality circles, and Suggestions for improvement


Making small improvements on a continuous basis. Creative solutions instead of capital expenditures.

II ) What Are The Benefits Resulting From Kaizen?

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.

III ) Getting Started With Kaizen

Employee training and communication is important. Combined with that, direct involvement by the management is critical. For example, a manager spending a week on the shop floor working with employees to help and encourage them to develop suggestions will help. That manager should also ensure employees see their suggestions acted on immediately. Suggestions should not be implemented next month or next week, but today. In some cases, a suggestion submitted in the morning can be implemented that afternoon, or sooner Keep employees informed about what happens with their suggestions. Don't have suggestions disappear into a management "black hole." To get Kaizen started it can be helpful to bring in outside experts. They can work in your facility identifying problems that those close to the work may not see

A significant obstacle to Kaizen in many corporations is that problems are seen as negatives. We don't like problems. Someone who is associated with a problem is likely to be negatively impacted (a lower raise, missed promotion, or even fired). In Kaizen, problems are opportunities to improve. With Kaizen we want to find, report, and fix problems. Kaizen encourages and rewards the

identification of problems by all employees

Train employees in using Kaizen tools such as 5S, Kanban, and Line Balancing.

What is Five S?
A Five S program is usually a part of, and the key component of Visual Factory (Workplace) Management (VFM). And 5s and VFM are both a part of Kaizen -- a system of continual incremental improvement -- which is a component of lean manufacturing. The Five S program focuses on having visual order, organization, cleanliness and standardization. The results you can expect from a Five S program are: improved profitability, efficiency, service and safety. The precipices underlying a Five S program at first appear to be simple, obvious common sense. And they are. But until the advent of Five S programs many businesses ignored these basic principles.

1) SEIRI - Sort (Clean Up - Tidiness )

"Sorting" means to sort through everything in each work area. Keep only what is necessary. Materials, tools, equipment and supplies that are not frequently used should be moved to a separate, common storage area. Items that are not used should be discarded. Don't keep things around just because they might be used, someday. As a result of the sorting process you will eliminate (or repair) broken equipment and tools.

2) SEITON - Set In Order (Organize - Orderliness )

A place for everything and everything in it's place, with everything properly identified and labeled. This means there are two important parts to Systematic Organization - putting everything in its proper place and setting up a system so that it is easy to return each item to its proper place. The second part is where good labeling and identification practices are important. Both the equipment/tools and materials you use, as well as their proper storage locations, need to be clearly identified and labeled.

3) SEISI - Sweep (Regular Cleaning)

Regular, usually daily, cleaning is needed or everything will return to the way it was. This could also be thought of as inspecting. While cleaning it's easy to also inspect the machines, tools, equipment and supplies you work with. Regular cleaning and inspection makes it easy to spot lubricant leaks, equipment misalignment, breakage, missing tools and low levels of supplies. Problems can be identified and fixed when they are small. If these minor problems are not addressed while small, they could lead to equipment failure, unplanned outages or long - unproductive - waits while new supplies are delivered.

4) SEIKETSU - Standardize (Simplify)

The good practices developed in steps 1 through 3 should be standardized and made easy to accomplish. Develop a work structure that will support the new practices and make them into habits. As you learn more, update and modify the standards to make the process simpler and easier. One of the hardest steps is avoiding old work habits. It's easy to slip back into what you've been doing for years. That's what everyone is familiar with. It feels comfortable .

5) SHITSUKE - Sustain ( Discipline )

Don't expect that you can clean up, get things organized and labeled, and ask people to clean and inspect their areas every day -- and then have everything continue to happen without any follow-up. Continue to educate people about maintaining standards. When there are changes - such as new equipment, new products, new work rules that will effect your Five S program, and adjustments to accommodate those changes, make any needed changes in the standards and provide training that addresses those changes.

Communication Aids.
Using 5s Posters and Signs: A good way to continue educating employees, and for maintain standards, is to use 5s posters and signs. You can create your own custom 5S posters, allowing you to communicate the specific information that needs to be communicated at each location. Changing work habits can be difficult, and it is easy to slip back into doing things the old, comfortable way. Use custom 5S posters to remind employees of the proper procedures, and of the benefits that come from following a 5s plan.