Understanding Kaizen & The Continuous Improvement Process

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“Sometimes, implementation of work standards is not enough. The operators may carry out the work sequence and standards but feel some uneasiness – this is the time for them to suggest kaizen.” Mr. Yasuhito Yamauuchi, Fmr President, Toyota Motor Corporation

The key: create a working environment where workers can suggest improvements.

Standardization is essential to lean manufacturing. However, once workers see a reason to improve upon it, kaizen must be considered.

Management must understand that Kaizen activities and the continuous improvement process are a bottom up approach to process improvement. It is the front line workers` ideas and suggestions which must be absorbed into the upper levels of management.

In this way, front line workers must be respected by management and their contributions valued.

For details on Office Kaizen, click here.

Kaizen, Angela Corriero, Process Improvement Japan

"At the center of the company is the worker. Management should go to the gemba to learn what the worker thinks. Workers need to express their ideas. They need training to learn how to do so. Workers need to learn how to problem solve and create solutions. Then, they need to be encouraged and empowered to make their suggestions. " Mr. Li, Sango Co. Ltd.

Peter Hunter made a worthy note: What people in the West appear to believe about kaizen and quality circles is that they are a type of suggestion box. Their purpose is to collect ideas from the workforce and use those ideas for process improvement.
In an environment in which managers are taught techniques of Command and Control it is not possible for the average manager to conceive of a situation in which the workforce would know more about their jobs, which they do every day, than their manager.
In this way, it is difficult for managers to follow suggestions from below.
How continuous process improvement can aid Europe`s recovery, click here.

When suggestions are collected from the workforce there are three things that can happen:
1. Suggestions from the workforce are ignored. 
(Unfortunately, all too common in the West). This is very dispiriting and the workforce soon learn not to offer their suggestions to management.
The other two things are the way that ideas are responded to in Japan:
2. & 3. The originator of the idea is told one of two things. 
Either yes we are going to use your idea, thank you. 
Or No we are not going to use your idea but here is the reason why not. 
Both of these responses tell the originator that he is being valued, that someone is listening, that his idea is being respected. 


Whether the answer is yes or no is not important, what is important is the way that this feedback makes the individual feel. 
Getting this feedback changes the way that the workforce feels about what they do. They are making a contribution that is always recognized and it is that acknowledgement that lets them feel proud of what they do. 
They are able to make a difference and they can see the result of their contributions.

The way they feel about what they do is what in the West is called employee engagement. 

It is ironic that engagement is being seen in the West as an increasingly unachievable dream, while in Japan, they create the conditions to allow it to happen every day.

Toyota Motor Corporation`s Strategy for Fostering a Culture of Continuous Improvement Process Internationally:

Toyota Motor Corporation recognizes the challenges of instilling a culture of continuous improvement process globally and is currently conducting leader empowerment training internationally – that is, teaching leaders to improve their empowerment skills.

“The way managers understand and practice (continuous) improvement activities shapes corporate culture. To foster a workplace (with high employee engagement) and a sense of achievement in their improvement activities will depend heavily on the supervisors` management expertise.

One scholar in the U.S said that Toyota`s workers are very competitive because they are always prepared to learn, solve problems and adapt. I have described their attitude with the phrase, `improvement and growth`”., Mr. Akira Takahashi, Fmr Chairman, Denso Corporation.

For more information on kaizen circles, click here.

For Lean Manufacturing Tools, click here.

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