Kaizen is the lean manufacturing term for continuous improvement and was originally used to describe a key element of the Toyota Production System. In use, Kaizen describes an environment where companies and individuals proactively work to improve the manufacturing process.
Kaizen events have become commonplace at companies that practice lean manufacturing. But these events are only a portion of the complete Kaizen process. Traditionally companies have focused on a project based path to change. Organizations that work toward a state of constant improvement understand that Kaizen events are a tool that allows them to focus resources and employees on process improvements. By understanding the current process and the future state goals you can implement Kaizen. Creating a corporate culture of continuous improvement will allow you to adapt to a changing marketplace and exceed customer expectations.
A critical component of Kaizen is an unbiased view of the current state. Particularly when companies are profitable and customers are generally satisfied, changes to any process can seem both a waste and a risk. There may be bias against change when the people who created a process are the same people who need to continuously change the process. In order to overcome this it is necessary to understand the current process, particularly any shortcomings. By studying, understanding and documenting the current process you can identify areas that would benefit from change.
Note: It is extremely important to focus on change and discard any thoughts of blame. Too many companies waste time determining who was “at fault”. Successful companies make the process better.
Once the current state is understood and documented and the future state defined you are then ready to create and implement your improvement process. The most successful improvements involve everyone who is part of the process that is being changed. The actual steps and methods of changing aren't the focus of Kaizen. There are several tested and documented methods of improving a process. Which tools and techniques are suitable for a specific situation must be determined by all the factors involved whether it is a SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die), Kanban, or Poka-Yoke that will best address the issue; until they are implemented they aren't improving the process.
The nature of Kaizen actually becomes most evident after a process change. By benchmarking the process before the change and comparing the results after, the net effect can be measured. Often, after a project is completed, everyone involved moves on to other issues. Creating a company culture of continuous incremental improvement will increase the potential for success. Through a continuous cycle of identification, inspection and implementation you have the ability to become a little better every day.
Someone is going to come up with a better, faster or cheaper way. It will either be you or your competition. Look at your lead time from 5 years ago and compare that to how you perform today. Chances are you're a lot faster, now. When you look ahead 5 years; will you be where you need to be? Adaptation of a philosophy of continuous improvement and Kaizen will help you:
- Proactively improve production
- Reduce manufacturing waste
- Increase employee involvement
- Increase customer satisfaction
Companies that continuously improve, continuously succeed.
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