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Kaizen is the Japanese theory of continuous improvement. Kaizen is all about how all employees can make incremental improvements to manufacturing processes – continuously. Kaizen is unusual in that it is both a philosophy, as well as an action plan, consisting of a series of improvement events.
Kaizen was pioneered by Imai Maasaki, who is also the founder and chair of the Kaizen Institute. Kaizen philosophy is based on the starting point that everything can be improved – every process, whether working well or problematic, they can all be made better. Employees and managers should have a questioning attitude, where they proactively seek out ways to improve, constantly and frequently.
Kaizen and People in the Workplace
As mentioned above Kaizen involves everyone – both shop floor employees and managers. Supervisors, team leaders and managers have a responsibility to encourage a kaizen culture. They should proactively lead by example, organizing training and putting in place mechanisms to facilitate improvement. They have a responsibility to organize and facilitate Kaizen events; targeted activities to solve problems and make improvements. To encourage continuous improvement, managers should monitor the impact of improvement activities, communicate successes, encourage future events and promote the questioning attitude that underpins the philosophy.
Importantly, managers should also aim to constantly improve their own activities, processes and actions, thereby leading by example. Supervisors and team leaders are ultimately responsible for implementing Kaizen, providing the strategy, resources, instructions and organization to make it happen on the ground.
Employees too should be fully involved in Kaizen. The people undertaking manufacturing and engineering tasks are in the best position to make improvements, simply because they can see where the potential for enhancements are. By constantly asking how things can be improved, spotting problems and seeking solutions, employees provide the bulk of the opportunities for continuous improvement.
Gains obtained through Kaizen activities should be ‘locked in’ with standards and instructions drafted to capture the improvements. Images should be used just as much as text. With Kaizen employees should be encouraged to think differently about their technical work and constantly aim to get to the root cause of problems. Whereas difficulties normally can be frustrating and troublesome, with Kaizen they should be seen as opportunities to make fundamental improvements.
Kaizen Continuous Improvement: Practical Application in the Workplace
Kaizen Tools and Techniques
Kaizen, as a philosophy, employs a range of other Lean Manufacturing tools with the aim of continuously improving the work environment. As such, common themes include identifying and eliminating waste in all its forms, in addition to orderliness and good housekeeping. Other aims include defect elimination, fast-paced operation and preventative action to ensure equipment and facilities are maintained in good working order. As such tools used in Kaizen activities include:
One continuous improvement technique worthy of mention is Kaizen Blitz…
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