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Introduction to Kaizen

Posted by isoeasy on May 16, 2006

ZenKaizen literally means change (kai) to become good (zen). Key elements of kaizen are: quality, effort, willingness to change and communication. The kaizen attitude supports a continuous process of incremental improvements within an organization.

The foundation of the kaizen model consists of five founding elements:
• teamwork
• personal discipline
• improved morale
• quality circles
• suggestions for improvement.

From this foundation, three key aspects of kaizen arise: elimination of muda (waste, inefficiency, the five-S framework for good housekeeping and standardization.

Through its impact on multiple functional parts of the organization, kaizen can eventually lead to sustainable profit management.

When to use it
First, the organization must reduce and eliminate muda (waste, inefficiency) on the production floor as a result of overproduction, excess inventory, rejected products, movement, production and assembly, waiting, transportation, etc.

Good housekeeping is the next building block. This is achieved through the five Ss:

• Seiri – tidiness. Separate what is necessary for the work from what is not. This should help to simplify work.
• Seiton – orderliness. You can increase efficiency by making deliberate decisions with regard to the allocation of materials, equipment, files, etc.
• Seiso – cleanliness. Everyone should help to keep things clean, organized, looking neat and attractive.
• Seiketsu – standardized clean-up. The regularity and
institutionalization of keeping things clean and organized as part of 'visual management' is an effective means of continuous improvement.
• Shitsuke – discipline. Personal responsibility for living up to the other four S's can make or break the success of housekeeping.

Standardization of practices and institutionalization of the five S's will make it easier for everyone, including newcomers, throughout the organization to keep improving and building on the achieved success. Top management plays an important role in looking after the widespread implementation and co-ordination of kaizen, the five S's and the standardization of work.

The kaizen philosophy resonates well with speed of change at operational levels in the organization. The sustainability of improvements proposed and implemented by people on the work floor is perhaps the strongest argument in favour of kaizen. Its mere simplicity makes implementation easy, although some cultures may not be as receptive to the high level of self-discipline that the Japanese are able to keep up.

Kaizen has more potential in incremental change situations than in abrupt turnarounds. A culture that focuses on short-term success and big 'hits' is not the right ingredient for kaizen. Co-operation and widespread discipline at all levels of the organization are absolute keys to success.

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