Kaizen, is the Japanese word for continuous improvement.
In a business context, this Japanese word refers to the activities that continuously improve all the aspects of the process and involve all employees. Kaizen is applied within a wide variety of sector such as healthcare, government, banking or other industries.
The only but very extensive objective of kaizen is to eliminate waste (those activities or processes which does not add any value to the product or service). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after the Second World War (as there was an atmosphere of scarcity and lack of resources), influenced also by American businesses and University lecturers which were studying about Total Quality Management and as part of The Toyota Way.
Kaizen means to change for better, within the context of either continuous or philosophy in Japanese culture. Given the practice in Japan of labelling business improvement techniques with the word kaizen, the word “kaizen” in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement activities and philosophy. There are different approaches of kaizen which are shown below:
- Kaizen Flow
- Kaizen Process
The first approach works towards the flow of materials and information so it is usually identified with the reorganization of a production area (layout, resources, raw material use, identification of areas, standardization, etc.). The second approach speaks about the improvement of individual job positions. Thus, improving the way operations’ workforce do their job is part of a kaizen process. The utilization of this model for continuous improvement activities requires that flow and process kaizen’s are used. This model enables the proactivity of the workforce looking for improvement ideas and propositions which, ideally, should be implemented on the same day. On the contrary, traditional models, generally have a long term action plan between the concept development and the project implementation.
Kaizen is belongs to the daily culture and philosophy the purpose of which goes beyond productivity improvement. It is a process that humanizes the workplace, improving the atmosphere and boosting motivation by eliminating non-added value work (muri), and teaching people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to detect and eliminate waste in business processes.
In order to have a successful implementation it is mandatory the participation of workers in the improvement. People at all levels and hierarchies of a company need to participate in kaizen. Kaizen is commonly applied in production operations but has also been used in other environments in which there are processes (which are all the companies existing).
While kaizen culture is usually based in small improvements, it leads to large results in terms of overall improvement in productivity and efficiency. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results and eventually, adjusting (as it is a continuous improvement method, it never ends).
Kaizen is designed to approach a particular issue in a short period of time and is referred to as a “kaizen event”. The scope of these issues is limited in scope. The employee who collaborates with a large contribution in the successful implementation of kaizen is awarded the title of Zenkai.
In conclusion, and answering the question about the utility of Kaizen, it is obviously useful for any kind of process and business. This philosophy has been given the name of kaizen but it is basically a logical way of solving problems and creating a proactive attitude towards the workforce who owns the processes needed to be controlled and improved.