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Kaizen (改善?), Japanese for "improvement" or "change for the best", refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, business management or any process. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions, and involves all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country. It has since spread throughout the world and is now being implemented in environments outside of business and productivity.
The Sino-Japanese word "kaizen" simply means "good change", with no inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries or in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word "improvement". However, given the common practice in Japan of labeling industrial or business improvement techniques with the word "kaizen" (for lack of a specific Japanese word meaning "continuous improvement" or "philosophy of improvement"), especially in the case of oft-emulated practices spearheaded by Toyota, the word Kaizen in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, or even taken to mean a "Japanese philosophy" thereof. The discussion below focuses on such interpretations of the word, as frequently used in the context of modern management discussions.
Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work ("muri"), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. In all, the process suggests a humanized approach to workers and to increasing productivity: "The idea is to nurture the company's human resources as much as it is to praise and encourage participation in kaizen activities." Successful implementation requires "the participation of workers in the improvement." People at all levels of an organization participate in kaizen, from the CEO down to janitorial staff, as well as external stakeholders when applicable. The format for kaizen can be individual, suggestion system, small group, or large group. At Toyota, it is usually a local improvement within a workstation or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity. This group is often guided through the kaizen process by a line supervisor; sometimes this is the line supervisor's key role. Kaizen on a broad, cross-departmental scale in companies, generates total quality management, and frees human efforts through improving productivity using machines and computing power.
While kaizen (at Toyota) usually delivers small improvements, the culture of continual aligned small improvements and standardization yields large results in terms of overall improvement in productivity. This philosophy differs from the "command and control" improvement programs of the mid-twentieth century. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. Large-scale pre-planning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements are suggested.
In modern usage, it is designed to address a particular issue over the course of a week and is referred to as a "kaizen blitz" or "kaizen event". These are limited in scope, and issues that arise from them are typically used in later blitzes. A person who makes a large contribution in the successful implementation of kaizen during kaizen events is awarded the title of "Zenkai".
After WWII, to help restore Japan, American occupation forces brought in American experts to help with the rebuilding of Japanese industry while The Civil Communications Section (CCS) developed a Management Training Program that taught statistical control methods as part of the overall material. This course was developed and taught by Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzman in 1949-50. Sarasohn recommended W. Edwards Deming for further training in Statistical Methods.
The Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) group was also tasked with improving Japanese management skills and Edgar McVoy was instrumental in bringing Lowell Mellen to Japan to properly install the Training Within Industry (TWI) programs in 1951.
Prior to the arrival of Mellen in 1951, the ESS group had a training film to introduce the three TWI "J" programs (Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations)---the film was titled "Improvement in 4 Steps" (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai). Thereby, "Kaizen" was introduced to Japan. For the pioneering, introduction, and implementation of Kaizen in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded the 2nd Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming in 1960. Consequently, the Union of Japanese Science and Engineering (JUSE) instituted the annual Deming Prizes for achievement in quality and dependability of products.
On October 18, 1989, JUSE awarded the Deming Prize to Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL), based in the US, for its exceptional accomplishments in process and quality control management. FPL was the first company outside Japan to win the Deming Prize.
The Toyota Production System is known for kaizen, where all line personnel are expected to stop their moving production line in case of any abnormality and, along with their supervisor, suggest an improvement to resolve the abnormality which may initiate a kaizen.
The cycle of kaizen activity can be defined as:
Another technique used in conjunction with PDCA is the 5 Whys, which is a form of root cause analysis in which the user asks a series of 5 "why" questions about a failure that has occurred, basing each subsequent question on the answer to the previous. There are normally a series of causes stemming from one root cause, and they can be visualized using fishbone diagrams or tables.
Apart from business applications of the method, both Anthony Robbins and Robert Maurer have popularized the kaizen principles into personal development principles. In the book One Small Step Can Change Your life: The Kaizen Way, and CD set The Kaizen Way to Success, Maurer looks at how individuals can take a kaizen approach in both their personal and professional lives.
In the Toyota Way Fieldbook, Liker and Meier discuss the kaizen blitz and kaizen burst (or kaizen event) approaches to continuous improvement. A kaizen blitz, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity. The basic concept is to identify and quickly remove waste. Another approach is that of the kaizen burst, a specific kaizen activity on a particular process in the value stream.