Measurement is the heart of science. The famous Irish physicist, Lord Kelvin, summed it up well saying, ‘when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be’. Measure of excellence is the utmost goal of any industries, be it manufacturing companies or a professional training and certification providers. This quality system performance is continuously monitored and evaluated for the sake of constant improvements of customer satisfaction, morale and reliability. Kaizen or Continuous Improvement which is introduced by Masaaki Imai in 1981, is a strategy of continuous improvement in process, product, and system by focusing on the elimination of waste, defects, variations and deficiencies by the active participation of workforce.
Kaizen as a Learning Tool for a Management Team
The philosophy of kaizen is equivalent to the principles of quality control management, six sigma, and lean thinking where the practice is focused on eliminating problems and seeking for the best solution possible. However, the strength of kaizen is the teaching on how to divide the processes and analyze them instead of solely concentrating on improving the process of production and marketing (quality control), or focusing on quality by rebuilding the processes in order to avoid reworking (six sigma), or converging on speed by cutting down on complexity, redundancy, and non-value added steps. The uniqueness of kaizen is that it stimulates learning in the working process so that the staff can thoroughly examine and critically question the activities for performance thus enabling the management team to gather information from the staff for doing a method analysis in improving production and reducing cost through the form of making decisions, measuring the distance towards goal achievement, and pondering for a new direction.
Learning for making decisions
It’s critical that decisions are made through the analysis of team who is assigned to seek out the problems in the system. As a tool for continuous improvement, the team has to keep to the fact that kaizen will support the improvement of existing activities, but it will not provide the giant step forward. Therefore, decisions should remain on targeted objectives and determine the appropriate resources that will catalyze the process for an efficient and effective outcome. Individuals that are part of a management team have to take the human element into consideration because a positive attitude towards problem-solving and being committed to improvement is highly critical in coordinating the practice of kaizen. But to keep these workers encouraged in probing for improvements and making suggestions the management team has to decide how to manage the skills and talents of its organization’s human resources so that kaizen becomes a discipline in itself instead of a fad.
Learning for measuring the distance towards achieving a goal
Positive attitudes at the conclusion of a successful event do not automatically translate to sustained performance improvement or employee enthusiasm. Appropriate action should be taken for follow on activity, particularly in the months following the event. While executing kaizen for a project, work scheduling can sometimes become compressed due to enormous pressure for delivering the results. Such a tight timeframe compromises the control in accurate practice of kaizen as workers take drastic measures to deliberately shorten the schedule while being deviant from seeking for improvement. Time should not overwhelm the drive towards quality. A resolute behavior and mindset is significant in sustaining the morale for utilizing kaizen. Kaizen can also made as a philosophical approach to develop one’s capacity and capabilities so that they can set the aura for other colleagues to follow and learn. Boundaries (eg;cost & time) should be arranged and a high degree of autonomy in deciding the solutions should be given, as long as those boundary conditions are met to avoid from being overly stressful with the amount of available resources to be used for problem solving.
Learning for contemplating on a new direction
Kaizen is a system that involves everyone – upper management to the cleaning team instead of leaving it to the management team to be held accountable for everything. The team has to steer the course for kaizen to make others embrace the culture to change and seek for changes for continuous improvement. Efforts should be made to galvanize the benefits of implementing kaizen when participants are expressing appreciation in being given the opportunity to learn, attempting new techniques for working, and developing oneself through the activities without any feeling of an overload of work. Suggestion system plays a vital role in involving all employees in Kaizen as it can be a morale booster although it does not always provide an immediate economic payback because it gets everyone involved in solving problems. 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, of which 99% were implemented. These continual small improvements add up to major benefits. The number of suggestions made by each worker is a reflection of the Kaizen efforts.
In conclusion, in order to fulfill Kaizen, “Common Sense” is all which is needed.