Introduction to Kaizen.

Kaizen is a Japanese management strategy that means “change for the better” or “continuous slow improvement, a belief that all aspects of life should be constantly improved. It comes from the Japanese words “kai” means continuous or change and “zen” means improvement, better. The Japanese way encourages small improvements day after day, continuously. The key aspect of Kaizen is that it is an on-going, never-ending improvement process. It’s a soft and gradual method opposed to more usual western habits to scrap everything and start with new. In Japan where the concept originated, kaizen applies to all aspects of life, not just to the workplace. Kaizen is the word that was originally used to describe a key element of the Toyota Production System that means “making things the way they should be” according to the basic, sensible principles of profitable industrial engineering. It means creating an atmosphere of continuous improvement by changing your view, your method and your way of thinking to make something better. In use, Kaizen describes an environment where companies and individuals proactively work to improve the manufacturing process. The kaizen system is based on incremental innovation, where employees are encouraged to make small changes in their work area on an ongoing basis. The cumulative effect of all these little changes over time can be quite significant, especially if all of the employees within a company and its leaders are committed to this philosophy. Improvements are usually accomplished at little or no expense without sophisticated techniques or expensive equipment. Instead of sinking more money in buying machinery, Kaizen veers an organization towards paying attention to small but significant details. Managers are encouraged to improve the efficiency of existing infrastructure instead of investing in more of the same. Kaizen focuses on simplification by breaking down complex processes into their sub processes and then improving them. The driving force behind kaizen is dissatisfaction with the status quo, no matter how good the firm is perceived to be. Standing still will allow the competition to overtake and pass any complacent firm. The act of being creative to solve a problem or make an improvement not only educates people but also inspires to go further. The fundamental idea behind kaizen comes straight from the Deming’s PDCA cycle:

  • someone has an idea for doing the job better (Plan)
  • experiments will be conducted to investigate the idea (Do)
  • the results evaluated to determine if the idea produced the desired result (Check)
  • if so, the standard operating procedures will be changed (Act)

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. In the first stage, management should make every effort to help the workers provide suggestions, no matter how primitive, for the improvement of the worker’s job and the workshop. This will help the workers look at the way they are doing their jobs. In the second stage, management should stress employee education so that employees can provide better suggestions. To enable workers to provide better suggestions, they should be equipped to analyze problems and the environment. This requires education. Main subjects for suggestions are, in order of importance:

  • Improvement in one’s own work
  • Savings in energy, material, and other resources
  • Improvement in the working environment
  • Improvements in machines and processes
  • Improvements in tools
  • Improvements in office work
  • Improvements in product quality
  • Ideas for new products
  • Customer services and customers relations
  • Others

Kaizen is based on making changes anywhere improvements can be made. Western philosophy may be summarized as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Kaizen philosophy is to “do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn’t broken, because if we don’t, we can’t compete with those who do.” For example, Toyota is well-known as one of the leaders in using Kaizen. In 1999 at one U.S. plant, 7,000 Toyota employees submitted over 75,000 suggestions; out of them, 99% were implemented.

Philosophy of kaizen:

Kaizen is one of the most commonly used words in Japan. It is used, not only in the workplace, but in popular culture as well. Kaizen is a foundation on which companies are built. Kaizen is such a natural way for people in Japan to think that managers and workers often do not make a conscious effort to think “Kaizen.” They just think the way they think – and that way happens to be Kaizen! If you are aware of the Kaizen philosophy and strive to implement it, not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company. After WWII most Japanese companies had to start over. Everyday brought new challenges, and rising to those challenges resulted in progress. Simply staying in business required a step forward everyday, and this made Kaizen a way of life.

  1. Constant Improvement

    In any business, management creates standards that employees must follow to perform the job. In Japan, maintaining and improving standards is the main goal of management. If you improve standards, it means you then establish higher standards which you observe, maintain and then later try to improve upon. This is an unending process. If you do not maintain the standard, it is bound to slip back, giving it the “two steps forward, one step back” effect. Lasting improvement is achieved only when people work to higher standards. For this reason, maintenance and improvement go hand in-hand for Japanese managers. Generally speaking, the higher up the manager is, the more he should be concerned with improvement. At the bottom level, an unskilled laborer may spend the day simply following instructions. However as he becomes better at his job, he begins to think about ways to improve, or make his job easier. In doing this, he finds ways to make his work more efficient, thus adding to overall improvement within the company. The value of improvement is obvious. In business, whenever improvements are made, they are eventually going to lead to better quality and productivity. Improvement is a process. The process starts with recognizing a need, and the need becomes apparent when you recognize a problem. Kaizen puts an emphasis on problem-awareness and will lead you to the identification of problems.
    According to Bicheno, kaizen or CI can be classified in five different improvement types; passive incremental, passive breakthrough, enforced incremental, enforced breakthrough and blitz.

    1. Passive Incremental
      Passive Incremental improvements can be the suggestion scheme with or without rewards, and with or without team emphasis. A team based passive incremental improvement example is the quality circle. According to Bicheno non-acknowledgement and non-recognition have probably been the major reason for suggestions schemes producing poor results and being abandoned.

    2. Passive Breakthrough
      Passive Breakthroughs normally springs from traditional industrial engineering projects and work study projects, particularly if the initiative is left to the Industrial Engineering of work study department Bicheno. According to Bicheno passive breakthroughs have probably been the greatest source of productivity improvement over the past 100 years. It is described by Bicheno as being the classic improvement method by industrial engineering and stated that it has been around for many years.
    3. Enforced Incremental
      Enforced Incremental is driven waste elimination and thereby not only left to chance of operator initiative. Examples of drivers could be response analysis, line stop, inventory withdrawal, waste checklist and the stage 1, stage 2 cycle. It is about setting up a culture that drives improvement, which constantly opens up new opportunities for another improvement activity Bicheno.
    4. Enforced Breakthrough
      Enforced Breakthroughs can be industrial engineering activities, for example initiated by management or by crisis. It is driven by active value stream current and future state mapping which generally target the complete value stream and followed up by action review cycles and an action plan or master schedule Bicheno.
    5. Blitz
      Blitz or kaizen events are a combination of Enforced Incremental and Enforced Breakthrough. It is breakthrough because typical blitz events achieve between 25% and 70% improvements within either a week or within a month at most. On the other hand it is incremental because blitz events typically relates to small areas so it is typically more point kaizen (local area) than flow kaizen (full value stream). It is enforced because the expectations and opportunities are in place Bicheno. According to Bicheno blitz events are not necessarily continuous improvement if you see it as an isolated event. But blitz events should be repeated in the same area at regular intervals. Product change, priority change, people change and technology improvement.
  2. Problem Solving

    Where there are no problems, there is no potential for improvement. When you recognize that a problem exists, Kaizen is already working. The real issue is that the people who create the problem are often not directly inconvenienced by it, and thus tend to not be sensitive to the problem. In day-to-day management situations, the first instinct is to hide or ignore the problem rather than to correct it. This happens because a problem is …. well, a problem! By nature, nobody wants to be accused of having created a problem. However if you think positive, you can turn each problem into a valuable opportunity for improvement. So, according to Kaizen philosophy, when you identify a problem, you must solve that problem. Once you solve a problem, you, in essence, surpass a previously set standard. This results in the need to set a new, higher standard and is the basis for the Kaizen concept.

  3. Standardization

    If you don’t first set a standard, you can never improve upon that standard. There must be a precise standard of measurement for every worker, every machine, every process and even every manager. To follow the Kaizen strategy means to make constant efforts to improve upon a standard. For Kaizen, standards exist only to be surpassed by better standards. Kaizen is really based on constant upgrading and revision. Not everything in a process or work environment needs to be measurable and standardized. Sometimes, Japanese factories use a one-point standardization. Each worker performs many tasks, but only one of those tasks needs to be standardized. This one-point standard is often displayed in the workplace so that the worker is always mindful of it. After the standard is followed for a while, it becomes second nature to perform the task to meet the standard. At that point, another standard can be added. Standardization is a way of spreading the benefits of improvement throughout the organization. In a disciplined environment, everyone, including management, is mindful of those standards.

  4. The Suggestion System

    Kaizen covers every part of a business. From the tasks of laborers to the maintenance of machinery and facilities, Kaizen has a role to play. All improvements will eventually have a positive effect on systems and procedures. Many top Japanese executives believe that Kaizen is 50 percent of management’s job, and really, Kaizen is everybody’s job! It is important for management to understand the workers role in Kaizen, and to support it completely. One of the main vehicles for involving all employees in Kaizen is through the use of the suggestion system. The suggestion system does not always provide immediate economic payback, but is looked at as more of a morale booster. Morale can be improved through Kaizen activities because it gets everyone involved in solving problems. In many Japanese companies, the number of suggestions made by each worker is looked at as a reflection of the supervisor’s Kaizen efforts. It is a goal of managers and supervisors to come up with ways to help generate more suggestions by the workers. Management is willing to give recognition to employees for making efforts to improve, and they try to make this recognition visible. Often, the number of suggestions is posted individually on the wall of the workplace in order to encourage competition among workers and among groups. A typical Japanese plant has a space reserved in the corner of each workshop for publicizing activities going on in the workplace. Some of the space might be reserved for signs indicating the number of suggestions made by workers or groups, or even post the actual suggestion. Another example would be to display a tool that has been improved as a result of a worker’s suggestion. By displaying these sorts of improvements, workers in other work areas can adopt the same improvement ideas. Displaying goals, recognition and suggestions helps to improve communication and boost morale. Kaizen begins when the worker adopts a positive attitude toward changing and improving the way he works. Each suggestion leads to a revised standard, and since the new standard has been set by a workers own volition, he takes pride in the new standard and is willing to follow it. If, on the contrary, he is told to follow a standard imposed by management, he may not be as willing to follow it. Thus, through suggestions, employees can participate in Kaizen in the workplace and play an important role in upgrading standards. Japanese managers are more willing to go along with a change if it contributes to any of the following goals:

    • Making the job easier
    • Making the job more productive
    • Removing drudgery from the job
    •  Improving product quality
    • Removing nuisance from the job
    • Saving time and cost
    • Making the job safer
  5. Process-Oriented Thinking

    Another change you will notice with Kaizen is that it generates a process oriented way of thinking. This happens because processes must be improved before you get improved results. In addition to being process oriented, Kaizen is also people-oriented, since it is directed at people’s efforts.  In Japan, the process is considered to be just as important as the intended result.  A process-oriented manager should be people-oriented and have a reward system based on the following factors:

    • Discipline
    • Participation and involvement
    • Time management
    • Morale
    • Skill development
    • Communication
  6. Kaizen vs. Innovation

    Kaizen vs. innovation could be referred to as the gradualist-approach vs. the great-leap-forward approach. Japanese companies generally favor the gradualist approach and Western companies favor the great-leap approach, which is an approach epitomized by the term innovation. Innovation is characterized by major changes in the wake of technological breakthroughs, or the introduction of the latest management concepts or production techniques. Kaizen, on the other hand, is un-dramatic and subtle, and its results are seldom immediately visible. Kaizen is continuous while innovation is a one-shot phenomenon. Further, innovation is technology and money-oriented whereas Kaizen is people- oriented.Kaizen does not call for a large investment to implement it, but it does call for a great deal of continuous effort and commitment. To implement Kaizen, you need only simple, conventional techniques. Often, common sense is all that is needed. On the other hand, innovation usually requires highly sophisticated technology, as well as a huge investment. Often, innovation does not bring the staircase effect, however, because it lacks the Kaizen strategy to go along with it. Once a new system has been installed as a result of new innovation, it is subject to steady deterioration unless continuing efforts are made to first maintain it and then improve on it. There is no such thing as static or constant. The worst companies are those that do nothing but maintenance (no internal drive for Kaizen OR innovation). Improvement by definition is slow, gradual and often invisible with effects that are felt over the long run. In a slow-growth economy, Kaizen often has a better payoff than innovation does. For example: it’s difficult to increase sales by 10% but it’s not so difficult to cut manufacturing costs by 10%. Kaizen requires virtually everyone’s personal efforts and the knowledge that with that effort and time, improvements will be made. Management must make a conscious and continuous effort to support it. It requires a substantial management commitment of time and effort. Investing in Kaizen means investing people, not capital.

  7. Management Support of Kaizen

    If the benefits of Kaizen come gradually, and its effects are felt only on a long-term basis, it is obvious that Kaizen can thrive only under top management that has a genuine concern for the long-term health of the company. One of the major differences between Japanese and Western management styles is their time frames. Japanese management has a long-term perspective and Western managers tend to look for shorter-term results. Unless top management is determined to introduce Kaizen as a top priority, any effort to introduce Kaizen to the company will be short lived. Kaizen starts with the identification of problems. In the Western hire-and -fire environment, identification of a problem often means a negative performance review and may even carry the risk of dismissal. Superiors are busy finding fault with subordinates, and subordinates are busy covering up problems. Changing the corporate culture to accommodate and foster Kaizen – to encourage everybody to admit problems and to work out plans for their solution – will require sweeping changes in personnel practices and the way people work with each other. Kaizen’s introduction and direction must be top-down, but the suggestions for Kaizen should be bottom up, since the best suggestions for improvement usually come from those closest to the problem. Western Management will be required to introduce process-oriented criteria at every level, which will necessitate company-wide retraining programs as well as restructuring of the planning and control systems. The benefits of Kaizen are obvious to those who have introduced it. Kaizen leads to improved quality and greater productivity. Where Kaizen is introduced for the first time, management may easily see productivity increase by 30 percent, 50 percent and even 100 percent and more, all without any major capital investments. Kaizen helps lower the breakeven point. It helps management to become more attentive to customer needs and build a system that takes customer requirements into account. The Kaizen strategy strives to give undivided attention to both process and result. It is the effort that counts when we are talking about process improvement, and management should develop a system that rewards the efforts of both workers and managers, and not just the recognition of results. Kaizen does not replace or preclude innovation. Rather, the two are complementary. Ideally, innovation should take off after Kaizen has been exhausted, and Kaizen should follow as soon as innovation is initiated. Kaizen and innovation are inseparable ingredients in progress. The Kaizen concept is valid not only in Japan, but in other countries. All people have an instinctive desire to improve themselves. Although it is true that cultural factors affect an individual’s behavior, it is also true that the individual’s behavior can be measured and affected through a series of factors or processes. Thus, it is always possible regardless of the culture, to break behavior down into processes and to establish control points and check points. This is why such management tools and decision-making and problem solving have a universal validity.

Kaizen -The three pillars

According to M. Imai, a guru in these management philosophies and practices , the three pillars of kaizen are summarized as follows:

  1. Housekeeping
  2. Waste elimination
  3. Standardization

and as he states , the management and employees must work together to fulfill the requirements for each category. Tο be ensured success on activities on those three pillars three factors have also to be taken account .

  1. Visual management,
  2. The role of the supervisor,
  3. The importance of training and creating a learning organization.

More analytically on each one pillar of Kaizen:

  1. Housekeeping

    This is a process of managing the work place ,known as ‘’Gemba’’ (workplace ) in Japanese, for improvement purposes .Imai introduced the word ’’Gemba ‘’, which means ‘’real place’’, where value is added to the products or services before passing them to next process where they are formed.
    For proper housekeeping a valuable tool or methodology is used , the 5S methodology. Then term “Five S” is derived from the first letters of Japanese words referred to five practices leading to a clean and manageable work area: seiri (organization), seiton (tidiness), seiso (purity), seiketsu (cleanliness), and shitsuke (discipline). The English words equivalent of the 5S’s are sort, straighten, sweep, sanitize, and sustain. 5S evaluations provide measurable insight into the orderliness of a work area and there are checklists for manufacturing and nonmanufacturing areas that cover an array of criteria as i.e. cleanliness, safety, and ergonomics. Five S evaluation contributes to how employees feel about product, company, and their selves and today it has become essential for any company, engaged in manufacturing, to practice the 5S’s in order to be recognized as a manufacturer of world-class status

    1. Seiri: SORT what is not needed. Use the red tag system of tagging items considered not needed, then give everyone a chance to indicate if the items really are needed. Any red tagged item for which no one identifies a need is eliminated (sell to employee, sell to scrap dealer, give away, put into trash.
    2. Seiton: STRAIGHTEN what must be kept. Make things visible. Put tools on peg board and outline the tool so its location can be readily identified. Apply the saying “a place for everything, and everything a place’’.
    3. Seiso: SCRUB everything that remains. Clean and paint to provide a pleasing appearance.
    4. Seiketsu: SPREAD the clean/check routine. When others see the improvements in the Kaizen area, give them the training and the time to improve their work area.
    5. Shitsuke: STANDARDIZATION and self-discipline. Established a cleaning schedule. Use downtime to clean and straighten area.

    As some of the benefits of employees of practicing the five S could be referred to as follows:
    Creates cleanliness, sanitary, pleasant, and safe working environments; it revitalizes Gemba and greatly improves employee morale and motivation; it eliminates various kinds of waste by minimizing the need to search for tools, making the operators’ jobs easier, reducing physically strenuous work, and freeing up space; it creates a sense of belonging and love for the place of work for the employees

  2. Waste (Muda ) elimination.

    Muda in Japanese means waste. The resources at each process — people and machines — either add value or do not add value and therefore ,any non-value adding activity is classified as muda in Japan. Work is a series of value-adding activities, from raw materials ,ending to a final product. Muda is any non-value-added task. To give some examples ,there are presented here Muda in both manufacturing and office settings described below:

    Muda in Manufacturing

    • Shipping defective parts
    • Waiting for inspection
    • Walking and transporting parts
    • Overproduction
    • Excess inventory which hides

    Muda in Office

    • Passing on work that contains errors
    • Signature approvals, bureaucracy
    • Walking or routing documents
    • Copies, files, a lot of papers
    • Excess documentation

    The aim is to eliminate the seven types of waste caused by overproduction, waiting, transportation, unnecessary stock, over processing ,motion, and a defective part, and presented as following:

    1. Overproduction – Production more than production schedule
    2. Inventory – Too much material ahead of process hides problems
    3. Defects – Material and labor are wasted; capacity is lost at bottleneck
    4. Motion – Walking to get parts because of space taken by high WIP
    5. Processing – Protecting parts for transport to another process
    6. Waiting – Poor balance of work; operator attention time
    7. Transportation – Long moves; re-stacking; pick up/put down

    So muda (waste) elimination will cover the categories described as follows:

    1. Muda of overproduction. Overproduction may arises from fear of a machine’s failure, rejects, and employee absenteeism. Unfortunately, trying to get ahead of production can result in tremendous waste, consumption of raw materials before they are needed, wasteful input of manpower and utilities, additions of machinery, increased burdens in interest, additional space to store excess inventory, and added transportation and administrative costs.
    2. Muda of inventory. Final products, semi finished products, or part supplies kept in inventory do not add any value. Rather, they add cost of operations by occupying space, requiring additional equipment and facilities such as warehouses, forklifts, and computerized conveyor systems .Also the products deteriorate in quality and may even become obsolete overnight when market changes or competitors introduce a new product or customers change their taste and needs. Warehouses further require additional manpower for operation and administration. Excess items stay in inventory and gather dust (no value added), and their quality deteriorates over time. They are even at risk of damage through fire or disaster. Just-in-time (JIT) production system helps to solve this problem .
    3. Muda of defects (repair or rejects). Rejects, interrupt production and require rework and a great waste of resources and effort .Rejects will increase inspection work, require additional time to repair, require workers to always stand by to stop the machines, and increase of course paperwork.
    4. Muda of motion. Any motion of a persons not directly related to adding value is unproductive. Workers should avoid walking, lifting or carrying heavy objects that require great physical exertion because it is difficult, risky, and represents non-value added activities. Rearranging the workplace would eliminate unnecessary human movement and eliminate the requirement of another operator to lift the heavy objects. Analysis of operators’ or workers leg and hand motions in performing their work will help companies to understand what needs to be done.
    5. Muda of processing. There are many ways that muda can happen in processing. For example, failure to synchronize processes and bottlenecks create muda and can be eliminated by redesigning the assembly lines so, utilizing less input to produce the same output. Input here refers to resources, utilities, and materials. Output means items such as products, services, yield, and added value. Reduce the number of people on the line; the fewer line employees the better. Fewer employees will reduce potential mistakes, and thus create fewer quality problems. This does not mean that we need to dismiss our employees. There are many ways to use former line employees on Kaizen activities, i.e., on value-adding activities. When productivity goes up, costs will go down. In manufacturing, a longer production line requires more workers, more work-in-process and a longer lead-time. More workers also means a higher possibility of making mistakes, which leads to quality problems. More workers and a longer lead-time will also increase cost of operations. Machines that go down interrupts production. Unreliable machinery necessitates batch production, extra work-in-process, extra inventory, and extra repair efforts. A newly hired employee without proper training to handle the equipment can consequently delay operation, which may be just as costly as if the equipment were down. Eventually, quality will suffer and all these factors can increase operation costs.
    6. Muda of waiting. Muda of waiting occurs when the hands of the operator are idle; when an operator’s work is put on hold because of line imbalances, a lack of parts, or machine downtime; or when the operator is simply monitoring a machine as the machine performs a value-adding job. Watching the machine, and waiting for parts to arrive, are both muda and waste seconds and minutes. Lead time begins when the company pays for its raw materials and supplies, and ends when the company receives payment from customers for products sold. Thus, lead time represents the turnover of money. A shorter lead time means better use of resources, more flexibility in meeting customer needs, and a lower cost of operations. Muda elimination in this area presents a golden opportunity for Kaizen. There are many ways to cut lead time. This can be done through improving and speeding up feedback from customer orders, having closer communications with suppliers, and by streamlining and increasing the flexibility of Gemba operations . Another common type of muda in this category is time. Materials, products, information, and documentation sit in one place without adding value. On the production floor, temporary muda takes the form of inventory. In office work, it happens when documents or pieces of information sit on a desk or in trays or inside computer disks waiting to be analysed, or for a decision or a signature.
    7. Muda of transportation In workplace ,gemba, one notices all sorts of transport by such means as trucks, forklifts, and conveyors. Transportation is an essential part of operations, but moving materials or products adds no value. Even worse, damage often occurs during transport. To avoid muda, any process that is physically distant from the main line should be incorporated into the line as much as possible. Because eliminating muda costs nothing, muda elimination is one of the easiest ways for a company to improve its Gemba’s operations
  3. Standardization

    Standards are set by management, but they must be able to change when the environment changes. Companies can achieve dramatic improvement as reviewing the standards periodically, collecting and analysing data on defects, and encouraging teams to conduct problem-solving activities. Once the standards are in place and are being followed then if there are deviations, the workers know that there is a problem. Then employees will review the standards and either correct the deviation or advise management on changing and improving the standard. It is a never-ending process and is better explained and presented by the PDCA cycle(plan-do-check-act), known as Demming cycle , shown
    Pick a project (Pareto Principle)
    Gather data (Histogram and Control Charts)
    Find cause (Process Flow Diagram and Cause/Effect Diagram
    Pick likely causes (Pareto Principle and Scatter Diagrams)
    Try Solution (Cause/Effect , ‘’5W AND 1H ‘’ methodology : who, what, why, when, where, how)
    Implement solution
    Monitor results (Pareto, Histograms, and Control Charts)
    Standardize on new process (Write standards, Train, Foolproof, Quality-At-The-Source[QUATS])

    A successful PDCA cycle then is followed by the SDCA cycle where ‘S’ stands for standardization and maintenance of the new situation. So, PDCA stands for improvement and SDCA stands for maintenance .The two cycles are combined and presented on the following1
    Standardization process is a very important one that has few key features, presented below:

    • Represent the best, easiest, and safest way to do the job.
    • Offer the best way to preserve know-how and expertise.
    •  Provide a way to measure performance.
    • Show the relationship between cause and effect
    • Provide a basis for both maintenance and improvement
    • Provide objectives and indicate training goals
    • Provide a basis for training
    • Create a basis for auditing or diagnosis, and
    • Provide a means for preventing recurrence of errors and minimizing variability.

Types of Kaizen:

Types of Kaizen are based on the degree of problems or issues. If you do not know the degree of problem or issue, one may have a wrong approach in implementing Kaizen, and may take unnecessary action and waste time. Let’s look at different types of Kaizen and how those are implemented.

  1. Small Kaizen

    Small Kaizen or simple, quick Kaizen is useful to solve small issues that exist in the workplace. Small Kaizen does not need many resources and time to improve the situation. Many small issues that exist in the workplace are often ignored as staffs are used to work in such an environment, and forget to recognize small problems/issues as “Problem”. Note that the hospitals practicing 5S very well and sustain their 5S activities are often unknowingly practicing small Kaizen. One of the effective ways of practicing small Kaizen is using “Kaizen suggestion board.” Kaizen topics are usually discussed among Work Improvement Team (WIT) members.


    KAIZEN activity starts from sensing and realization of small issues/ problems in your work place. It is recommended to keep “Kaizen Memo” as a record of small Kaizen activities. Record about problems, countermeasures taken and improvement achieved together with pictures.

  2. Large Kaizen

    Large Kaizen approach is applied to solve complicated problems that need inputs and some other resources. Large Kaizen requires adequate time to analyze the problem carefully to solve problems and prevent recurrences. One cycle of large Kaizen is usually 6 months as shown in Diagram.

1Time spent for each step is dependent on data collection methods, number of countermeasures to implement, and monitoring of progress.

Kaizen Events

Montabon definition of a kaizen event: “Kaizen events are essentially well structured, multi-day problem solving sessions involving a cross-functional team, who is empowered to use experimentation as they see fit to derive a solution”.
Van et al’s definition of a kaizen event: “A kaizen event is a focused and structured improvement project, using a dedicated cross-functional team to improve a targeted work area, with specific goals, in an accelerated timeframe”. 
First and foremost CI, lean and kaizen events are performed by organizations with groups and individual people so it is important to categorize the different way of working in order to find the best work approach according to improving synergy levels. The framework of Kaizen is based on four areas; plan, implement, sustain and support. Furthermore it is constructed so it can be self assessed, in order to improve specific topics and in order to improve itself. The article of Van et al concludes that; “Use of the framework as a design and assessment tool appeared to make the kaizen events program more effective in the case study organization”.


Level of Kaizen:

The hierarchy of kaizen or lean improvements needs to be organized into five levels. The organization needs to use most if not all levels in order to aspire towards lean.


Level 1: The Individual

Level one, the individual, were individual employee’s needs to be recognized as being experts of their own process. They need to have the knowledge to understand their own processes in the big picture of organizational processes (wider value stream) and why their own process is important and necessary. The know why or underlying philosophy is the most important stage of learning and understanding. Hence improvements and sustainability starts with the individual at the workplace. The team leaders are important as they can encourage, facilitate and recognize individual achievements. Furthermore they can bring individual improvements to the attention of others. Individual “thank you” notes could be examples and carry much weight. Examples of work; waste reduction, work piece orientation, inventory and tool location, work sequence, ergonomics and/or pokayoke.

Level 2: The Work Team or Mini Point Kaizen

Level two, the work team, consists of groups or teams, which work in a cell or on a line segment. If they undertake an improvement workshop it will affect their collective work area. The initiatives may be done regularly as a part of team meetings, but can also be conducted on 1-2 day workshop. Recognition is crucial, so the team needs to present its results to a wider audience. Examples of work; work flows, cell layout, line rebalance, 5S, Footprinting and/or cell level quality.

Level 3: Kaizen Blitz Group or Point Kaizen

Level three, the kaizen blitz group, is work carried out in the local area. The event is often between 3-5 days and involves people from outside of the local area. The events usually address more complex issues. Unlike level 2 improvement teams this group forms for a specific purpose or problem to solve for an event. After the event the group disbands. Examples of work; substantial layout change, the implementation of a single pacemaker-based scheduling system together with runner route and integrating manufacturing and information flows.

Level 4: Value Stream Improvements: Flow Kaizen Groups

Level four, the flow kaizen groups, is work carried out across a full internal value stream. The time duration is between weeks and 3 months and with the purpose of creating future state maps and an action plan. The groups does usually not work full time but on and off the project. There will therefore be project managers assigned and sometimes with assistance from consultants. The group would be a multi-disciplinary group, working with a complete process or value stream and across several areas and functions. Examples of work; process issues, system issues and organizational issues.

Level 5: Supply Chain Kaizen Groups

Level five, the supply chain kaizen groups, are similar to flow kaizen groups but are focused toward the supply chain. They involve part time representatives from each participating organization. A project manager from the initiating organization is appointed and consultants are usually involved. Examples of work; A full supply chain value stream map for all the involved organizations would typically be the centerpiece in order to get the whole picture. The distinction between teams and teamwork . Teams refer to small groups of people working together towards some common purpose. Teamwork refers to an environment in the larger organization that creates and sustains relationships of trust, support, respect, interdependence and collaboration. It is relatively easy to establish a team, but to establish an environment for teamworking is a lot more difficult.

Steps to implement Kaizen:

There are seven  steps as follows;

  1. Selection of Kaizen theme
  2. Situation analysis
  3. Root cause analysis
  4. Identification of countermeasures
  5. Implementation of identified countermeasures
  6. Check effectiveness of the countermeasures
  7. Standardization of effective countermeasures

Step 1:Kaizen Theme selection

First step of Kaizen  is to select a Kaizen theme. Kaizen theme is a “Problem” or “Issue” that your section/department is facing, and staff of the section or department would like to reduce the problem for their workplace and its client. Kaizen theme should be able to implement with existing resources and implemented by the section staff.

Kaizen theme is:
= A problem your workplace is facing
= Something your section wants to improve
= An unsatisfying issue raised or claimed by clients
Process of selecting Kaizen theme should be;

  • Led by Work Improvement Team
  • Done by using brainstorming technique / method in a meeting involving all staff in a particular workplace
  • Use matrix to evaluate feasibility (ask ourselves “can we do it?).

Kaizen theme is described with:

  • Simple sentence containing the basic information of “What” and “Where” it is supposed to be done
  • Clarification of the reason for selecting the theme

Examples of Kaizen themes :

  • Time for searching items in the department is reduced
  • Mistake on packaging
  • Overstock of raw material

Note that action verb must be used. Word “Improve” seems to be OK but we do not know how much you want to “improve”. Therefore, it is better to clarify what you want to do.

Tips for selection of Kaizen theme are:

  • Possible to carry out within own department
  • Issue related with everyone in the department
  • Possible to solve within 3 to 6 months
  • Benefit to own section/department and its clients

Step 2: Situation analysis

Kaizen theme was selected in the Step 1, and this is equal to the “Problem”. There are different “Contributing factors” that  compose of the “Problem”. Therefore, the first process of “Situation analysis” is to brainstorm within Kaizen team on factors that contribute to the “Problem”. After identification of “Contributing factors” to the “Problem”, it is necessary to measure frequency of occurrence of identified “Contributing factors” of the problem. It is important to note that record of step by step of the current process as it is done and not how it would have been done is mandatory, as it will facilitate identification of type of data to be collected.
The following areas need to be carefully checked:

  • Knowledge of Kaizen among team members in relation to Kaizen theme and its contributing/component factors
  • Check if quantitative data are collected appropriately and related with  the Kaizen theme or not
  • Data collected are from reliable data source or not
  • Proper methodology is used for data collection or not
  • Data collection methodology is clearly recorded or not
  • Period of data collection is clearly recorded or not

Target setting for Kaizen

Target for achievement of Kaizen activity needs to be set. Target should be set based on the result of the situation analysis and performance level of the section. “What to improve”, “By when need to be achieved” and “How much should be improved or reduced”, etc. It is better not to be too  ambitious for target setting.

The following points need to be checked carefully:

  • Calculation of cumulative frequency and ratio
  • Pareto chart scale for frequency (defect)
  • Cut off point at 80% line
  • Plotting of cumulative ratio and match with scale
  • Target setting
  • Prioritization of component factors for next step

Step 3: Root cause analysis

Root cause analysis is a process to identify and understand the contributing factors or causes of a system failure. To do so, “Fish bone (Cause–Effect) diagram”,  can help in brainstorming to identify possible causes of a problem (effect). While drawing fish bone diagram remember  “Head of fish” is not the kaizen Theme. Common mistake found in beginners is that they put Kaizen  theme as “Head of fish”.  “Head of fish” is the contributing factor of the problem to be resolved (the  effect). For example, “Reduce long waiting time at OPD” is chosen as Kaizen them. However, long waiting time may be caused by different causes or influenced by different factors (contributing factors) such as “Staff is not coming on time and cannot start clinic earlier”, “Registration taking a lot of time” and so on.

Step 4: Identification of countermeasures

In this step, it is necessary to understand how to identify countermeasures  using Tree diagram and evaluate feasibility using Matrix diagram. It is also important that a second line countermeasures are also  well identified, and connection among countermeasures is also well defined. Thus, those points need to be carefully observed and provided with technical inputs for proper identification of countermeasures. After identification of countermeasures, feasibility needs to be checked with Matrix diagram. For example, if  “conduct training” is identified as 1st line countermeasure. Then, 1) develop training materials, 2) conduct a training session, and 3) monitoring and mentoring of trained staff, can be  identified as second line countermeasures. Then, feasibility for those 3 activities can be checked using Matrix diagram. if  “conduct a training session” got high mark then it can be  judged as feasible. Then here comes a question. Is it possible to conduct a training session without teaching materials? Answer is NO. Need to have handouts for training.


Identification of countermeasures

The following points need to be carefully checked in this Step:

  • All identified root causes in Step 3 are reflected in Matrix Diagram or not
  • Detailed countermeasures are identified or not; breakdown of countermeasures by the level of countermeasures
  • Feasibility is appropriately done or not; Check the relation among the identified countermeasures against a root cause
  • Scale and cutoff point of feasibility check are clarified or not

Step 5: Implementation of countermeasures

All countermeasures identified in Step 4 are accommodated into action plan for implementation of countermeasures. The action plan is developed using 5W (When, Where, Who, What, Why) and 1H (How) method to clarify key issues. A checklist must be developed to monitor the progress of countermeasures implementation and timeframe. Both action plan and checklist need to be displayed where all staff can see and access. This is very important to remind staff to implement identified countermeasures within the given timeframe.
The following points need to be carefully checked:

  • All countermeasures identified should be carried out within the section/unit
  • Action plan is developed based on “5W1H” concept
  • Checklist for monitoring of progress is developed
  • Appropriate time for implementation of countermeasures is indicated

Step 6: Checking effectiveness

Data collection

In this step, same data collected in Step 2 need to be collected again
for comparison of data to see the effectiveness of Kaizen activities
implemented in Step 5. Therefore facilitators need to ensure the following points in Step 6:

  • Necessary data is collected for effectiveness, check if it is the same methodology and period applied in Step 2
  • Compare table for effectiveness, check if it is developed or not
  • Pareto Charts for before and after Kaizen are developed based on the comparison table or not

Same scale of frequency needs to be applied on Pareto chart of before and after Kaizen. Plotting points of cumulative ratio also need to be checked. Another important thing to check is identification of effective countermeasures and other effects.


Whatever the results are, it is necessary to clarify the relationship between countermeasures and effectiveness.

  • Effectiveness should be measured by each countermeasure
  • The countermeasure that is not implemented but shows some good effects need to be investigated to identify the reason.
  • The countermeasure that is not implemented and hence cannot measure effectiveness need to be implemented.
  • It is necessary to review countermeasures if they are not effective.
  • The countermeasures that were implemented and judged as “effective” will be standardized in Step 7.
  • The countermeasures may cause bad effects. If bad effects are greater than effectiveness, it is necessary to review the countermeasures.

Note that effectiveness can be categorized into;

  • Tangible effects – Expected outcome
  • Ripple effects – predicted outcome
  • Intangible effects – unexpected outcome

Step 7:Standardization of effective countermeasures

The main purpose of this step is to maintain good results of Kaizen is  to prevent recurrence of tackled problems.


Step 7 adds another cycle called Standardize-Do-Check-Act (SDCA) cycle as discussed above to ensure continuation of effective measures to prevent fallback. The following points need to be carefully checked in this Step:

  • All effective countermeasures are reflected on standardization plan or not
  • Standardization is developed based on “5W1H”
  • If monitoring checklist for standardized activities is developed and used or not
  • Standardization plan is shared with all staff working in the section/ unit

Use 5W1H to clarify the activities for sustainable manners. After development of Standardization plan, there must be a mechanism to continue practicing effective measures to prevent fallback. We often see that majority of Work Improvement Teams, when they complete Step 6, they start relaxing and forget taking Step 7. As facilitator, member of Management Team or QIT, we need to remind them to implement Step 7.

Support to Kaizen events

It is highly unlikely that an organization can sustain kaizen events, including the support for kaizen events, if there is no overall support within the organization for CI. So for all organizations no matter the level of CI experience the support should be sufficient in order to achieve and sustain CI. As Anderson Kaye explains “Even where organizations are using self-assessment techniques and employing other positive approaches to quality management, they are failing to
sustain continuous improvement in the longer term”. He regard self-assessment models like the European Business Excellence Model and the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Award as holistic models, but state that they do not sufficiently emphasize the factors which will generate and keep the improvement momentum going. According to Kaye  the business excellence model has been found lacking in respect of  drivers. Kaye  made a model based on ten essential key criteria and supporting elements of best practice as a planned and integrated approach for achieving continuous improvements in an organization. The ten key criteria are illustrated in figure


Kaizen Team

The Facilitator

He is  responsible for making sure that the Kaizen Event flows smoothly from start to finish. This facilitator will organize prep meetings, collect data in advance, and report results. He is someone who will not be directly impacted by decisions made during the Event and one who is unlikely to have a preconceived opinion about which changes should be made. Some organizations choose to use a professional outside facilitator while others select a capable staff member from an internal team.

The Process Owner

He  is responsible for the process to be addressed during the Event. He or she is likely a director, manager, or supervisor. The process owner is responsible for supporting the facilitator in coordinating logistics, obtaining supplies and equipment, facility and team member access, and so forth. They will also help the facilitator select the other Event participants and rearrange resources so that all required team members can be available to participate. The process owner is essential to scoping the project and providing background information.

Subject Matter Expert(s)

Depending on the technical complexity of the process being addressed, one or more subject matter experts may be required. They may not need to participate in every aspect of the Event, but should be “on call” to address any specific issues or questions that arise. The same sometimes applies for specialists from areas like IT/IS or facilities.

Team Members

It is critical to involve some of the people who actually do the work on a day-to-day basis in your Kaizen Event. They are closest to the front line and uniquely understand and feel the roadblocks to a painless, efficient flow of work. They likely develop ideas for improvement based on what they learn during the early stages of the Event.

Other Resources

While the four roles above are almost always necessary, there are some others that may or may not be helpful, depending on the nature of the event and the type of problem to be solved. For example, it may be useful to include internal or external customers as part of your event, especially if the object is to improve customer satisfaction or to address a problem that affects them. In the case of a major or cross-functional change, an executive sponsor might be necessary to provide resources or to simply signal support for the team’s work.  Some events also benefit from the inclusion of people who know little or nothing about the process, often referred to as “fresh eyes.” They often ask unexpected questions that lead the team down a path that might otherwise have gone unexplored. Choosing the right players from the beginning will set your Kaizen Event up for success. You don’t need a cast of thousands, but you should have a mix of insights, experience and points of view. It makes sense to think as much about the who as the how.

Kaizen Event Synergy Framework

The framework is a four step model with an overall support area. Before starting the first step a pre-synergy assessment is recommended in order to set the focus area for the first kaizen event. The first step is planning the kaizen event 1, the second step is implementing or conducting the kaizen event 1 and the third step is sustaining the results from kaizen event 1. The fourth step is making a synergy assessment 1 after kaizen event 1. After finishing synergy assessment 1 the four steps repeats themselves. The improvements will be known, through the changes to synergy assessment 1 and new focus areas can be set as target focus for kaizen event 2. The four steps can then be run over and over which in the end should preferably result in more efficient kaizen events, optimized processes and higher levels of synergy for the company. The support area is a support area for continuous improvement at an organizational level and it will provide the needed support for all four steps along the way. The CI support area is needed in order to run the four steps, it will furthermore have an effect on sustaining the framework process, sustaining the new changes implemented and the efficiency with which the four steps are run.


  1. Kaizen Event Plan

    The first step of the framework is to plan the kaizen event.  The planning phase consists of three areas upfront to the kaizen event. These three areas include 1. Identify candidates, 2. Select candidates and 3. Define selected candidates. Furthermore these
    three areas consists of subareas that are important in order to become able to increase kaizen event performances and thereby also important in being able to conduct efficient kaizen events. The candidates for the event have to be identified and it includes important subareas such as; Deriving from a strategic direction, performing an analysis to define the candidates and make sure that it responds to emerging problems. The selection of the candidates includes the important subarea; defining an improvement strategy, defining a portfolio of events and scheduling of these events. The defining of the selected candidates includes the subarea of defining an initial project charter. Overall the planning phase makes sure that the long term direction is set both strategically and project scheduling vise. It makes sure that the right candidates are chosen and that there is a portfolio of projects that has the right candidates and future direction.


  2. Kaizen Event Implement

    The second step of the framework is to implement the kaizen event. According to the implementation phase consists of four areas upfront, while executing and after the kaizen event.These four areas include 1. Prepare for event, 2. Execute event, 3. Follow-up after event and 4. Deploy full-scale change. Furthermore these four areas consists of subareas that are important in order to become able to increase kaizen event performances and thereby also important in being able to conduct efficient kaizen events.
    The preparations for the event includes the important subareas; Explore, refine the charter, announce the event, select the team roles and prepare for the event.
    The execution of the event includes the important subareas; kicking off the event, build the team and train the team. Furthermore you need to follow a structured approach, report out to relevant parties and evaluate the kaizen event.
    After the event a follow up is needed and it includes important subareas such as; completing the action items and documenting the changes. Thirdly defining management processes has to be conducted in connection to the changes.
    Lastly a full-scale deployment is needed and it includes the subarea of; Completing the full-scale implementation and deployment.
    The implementation phase makes sure the long term planning and scheduling is adjusted when exploring before the actual event. It furthermore makes sure that the event is properly conducted with the right and trained team in place. The phase also includes a structure approach along with an evaluation and reporting out to interested parties to ensure the efficiency of the event. Lastly after the event it follows up with documentation and action items, it also makes sure to fit management processes before completing the full scale changes.1

  3. Kaizen Event Sustain

    The third step of the framework is to sustain the changes from the kaizen event.The sustain phase consist of two areas after the kaizen event. These two areas include 1.Review results and 2. Share results. Furthermore these two areas consists of subareas that are important in order to become able to increase kaizen event performances and thereby also important in being able to conduct efficient kaizen events. The reviewing of the results after the event includes the subareas; measuring the results, evaluating the results and adjusting the results.
    After reviewing the results the results should be shared in order to cover the subareas; standardizing the best practices and sharing the lessons learned.
    The sustain phase handles the results after the kaizen event. In order to sustain the results properly the results have to be measured, evaluated and adjusted. When sharing the results to other parties it is important to make sure to standardize the best practices and share the lessons learned within the organization.1

  4. Synergy Level Assessment

    The fourth step of the framework is to conduct a synergy assessment in order to determine the synergy levels.  The synergy assessment phase consists of four assessment areas which has to be assessed after the changes from the kaizen event has been sustained. These four areas includes 1. Assessing strategic synergy, 2. Assessing operational synergy, 3. Assessing cultural synergy and 4. Assessing commercial synergy. All four areas consist of specific criteria’s, in relation to the area, which is assessed by employees, the scores are then evaluated in order to find areas for improvement.
    The strategic synergy assessment consists of two sections. The first part is self awareness which implies to understand one’s own strategic and operational environment. The second part is collective awareness which implies to understand one’s collaborative partner(s) objectives and expectations. Furthermore to become aware what each party is going to contribute to the collaboration, as well as the new value proposition due to the collaboration.
    The operational synergy assessment likewise consists of two sections. The first part is the self awareness of internal operational processes. The second part is the level of cross party processes in order to coordinate the business processes beyond the individual boundaries.
    The cultural synergy assessment focuses on organizational and people related compatibility of each party The commercial synergy assessment focuses on clarity and robustness of commercial arrangements for all parties involved in the collaboration. It makes sure that each party is aware of the other parties and that agreements concerning, risks, intellectual property rights and gain sharing, have been made.
    The synergy level assessment phase is about getting the most accurate levels of synergy from employees in order to make improvements in specific low areas which become target areas. The assessment focuses on areas and criteria that can affect the overall synergy level of the company but it doesn’t tell you how to improve the area(s).
    The strategic synergy ensures that participating parties have a common ground and that individual objectives and expectations are understood and are consistent with competencies and contribution of each party, as well as the additional value and competitive advantage to be delivered through the collaboration.
    The operational synergy ensures that each party’s internal management processes and difficulties are understood and resolved, and that customer focused operational systems extend across organizational boundaries.
    The cultural synergy ensures that the mindset, organizational culture and management styles are compatible between partners and there is a sufficient level of trust and commitment in place. The commercial synergy ensures that the short and long term expectations, benefits and risks are understood and appropriate agreements have been put in place with regards to distribution of risks, as well as benefits arising from collaboration.1

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