The principles of KAIZEN
The Kaizen method is the business philosophy that guided the successes of the industry in Japan, with particular reference to Toyota, in the 1980s.
The term “kaizen” was coined in 1986 by Masaaki Imai, a Japanese economist consultant on quality management, meaning “continuous improvement”.
More precisely, the word was born from the juxtaposition of the Japanese words “kai” (改), “change, improvement” and “zen” (善), “good, better”, therefore properly “change for the better”.
The 3 principles that make it a winning and easily applicable theory are:
1) Eliminate waste in the use of energy and resources (無 駄, muda, “waste”);
2) Eliminate what is inefficient;
3) Check and organize the physical place where the value for the customer is created, be it the factory, the department, the line, the office (Gemba, 現場).
There can be 7 types of “waste” identifiable as muda in a company:
- warehouse and stocks (goods stock);
- transportation of goods;
- movement of operating personnel;
- defective products;
- process losses;
- waiting times;
Reducing waste until the goal of eliminating it is not only possible but is within everyone’s reach. The points on which management must act and concentrate are first of all to mobilize the participation of all, investing energies and all resources within the framework of a common vision. For this to be possible, good communication and collaboration between the various departments and levels is required, which means successfully combining different operating modes, tools and systems, as well as new ideas for improving and solving problems.
The mottainai “(勿 体 無), that is the contempt for waste” in an absolute way is a legacy of the tradition of pre-capitalist feudal Japan. The “mottainai” is something very strong, deeply felt in the Japanese spirit: a value judgment linked to impiety, understood as a real offense to morality.
Kaizen is a daily process that has as its objective the improvement of production efficiency, obtained above all through the humanization of the workplace. The following systems ensure that the production line and the processes connected to it respect and enhance the needs of the worker.
- widespread use of automated processes has progressively eliminated heavy and / or repetitive work;
- continuous training of staff through learning stages and technological requalification courses ensure that the staff is always qualified;
- awareness of the staff to the problem of waste (muda) so that it is always careful to recognize them if there are and to find a way to eliminate them;
- involvement of staff with the company’s Vision so that, being part of it, they feel it as their own.
Humanizing the workplace at every level and involving any business process leads to an increase in productivity. All the staff of the company, from the C.E.O. up to the cleaner, he is invariably involved in the process of managing and improving the organization with a view to achieving excellence. The Kaizen method maintains that treating the company’s human resources with praise and encouraging them to participate in the activities improves the quality of the results, and several cases have demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach: first of all, Toyota.
The Kaizen method focuses attention on the practical and immediate resolution of problems that may arise within the company.
To pursue this strategy, it is essential to focus on Gemba, or the workplace. This peculiar Japanese word indicates the place where the value for the customer is created, where the transformation takes place.
Faced with a problem, the place, the objects (gembutsu (現 物), “concrete object”) and the facts (genjitsu (現 実), “concrete reality”) that are involved must be examined “in the field”. In fact, it is often useless to carry out only desk analyzes without having first observed how the situation is unfolding: the numbers or reports describe only briefly the reality of what is happening in the field.
The 5 Gemba principles are:
1) seiri (整理) – to arrange: to separate and eliminate unnecessary things;
2) seiton (整頓) – tidying up: defining a place for everything;
3) seiso (清掃) – cleaning: cleaning for the identification and prevention of the occurrence of anomalies;
4) seiketsu (清潔) – standardize;
5) shitsuke (躾) – support: through self-discipline and training.
Enhancing the short (lean) flows of materials and information to better synchronize the processes that make up a company is another of the key points of Kaizen. Having an organizational structure that reduces the passage of information and materials avoids the waste of resources and energy. Other advantages of short streams are:
- better quality of the activity carried out, whether it is the creation of a product or service provided to the customer;
- the decrease in lead time: making faster deliveries;
- management facilitation: a controlled management and administrative activity;
- the use of a strictly necessary / minimum number of resources, obtaining maximum profit with minimum costs.
Another key point of the methodology connected to Lean Management is the Kanban (看板). It is a Lean Production technique that involves replacing and replenishing stocks as they are consumed (Just in time system).
Properly the term comes from Kan (看), “visual” combined with Ban (板), “signal” and means “sign”, “sign”: it refers in fact to the physical tags that allow the production, purchase or transport of materials (Pull Flow).
The Kanban is therefore a logistical management process structured according to the logic similar, to simplify, to that of reintegrating products on a supermarket shelf. The concept has ancient origins in history, and can also be found in eastern history in China of the first centuries before Christ, for example with reference to the military strategy of replacing soldiers in the ranks of the army, in The art of war (Sūnzǐ Bīngfǎ , 孫子兵 法) by Sun Tsu.
The Kaizen method develops a process that allows you to achieve an efficient and productive system oriented: the continuous elimination of waste, the organization and control of Gemba, and the optimization of energy and resources. Optimization arises from the humanization of work and sharing of objectives at all levels so that the activities of all the members of the organization are moved in the same direction every day.
By virtue of the particular attention that the method holds for human resources and organizational forces, and for the fact that it does not involve large investments or revolutionary changes, but gradual and progressive, Kaizen is a method that is easily applicable for any company, reporting very positive.
It is important to underline the value of change and continuous improvement. We can recognize two completely different ways of improving:
- innovation: a rapid, radical improvement that requires great resources and a complete break from the past.
- Kaizen: a slow but constant and unstoppable improvement that does not place itself in a position of rupture with the past but feeds on the past to improve the present and the future.
In hindsight, this management system represents a formalization of a lifestyle that involves all the components of the organization in a process of awareness and mutual integration. The KAIZEN method is based on a desire for change, for improvement, characterized by a slow and daily evolution.