Friday, August 19, 2011

Management Theories # 19 - The Kaizen concept

The Kaizen method of continuous incremental improvements is an originally Japanese management concept for incremental (gradual, continuous) change (improvement). K. is actually a way of life philosophy, assuming that every aspect of our life deserves to be constantly improved.

The Kaizen philosophy lies behind many Japanese management concepts such as Total Quality Control, Quality Control circles, small group activities, labor relations. Key elements of Kaizen are quality, effort, involvement of all employees, willingness to change, and communication.

Japanese companies distinguish between innovation (radical) and Kaizen (continuous). K. means literally: change (kai) to become good (zen).

The foundation of the Kaizen method consists of 5 founding elements:

1. teamwork,

2. personal discipline,

3. improved morale,

4. quality circles, and

5. suggestions for improvement.

Out of this foundation three key factors in K. arise:

- elimination of waste (muda) and inefficiency

- the Kaizen five-S framework for good housekeeping

1. Seiri - tidiness

2. Seiton - orderliness

3. Seiso - cleanliness

4. Seiketsu - standardized clean-up

5. Shitsuke - discipline

- standardization.

When to apply the Kaizen philosophy?

Although it is difficult to give generic advice it is clear that it fits well in incremental change situations that require long-term change and in collective cultures. More individual cultures that are more focused on short-term success are often more conducive to concepts such as Business Process Reengineering.

When Kaizen is compared to BPR is it clear the K. philosophy is more people-oriented, more easy to implement, requires long-term discipline. BPR on the other hand is harder, technology-oriented, enables radical change but requires major change management skills.

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