A Preview to Kaizen Week

This week the Business901 blog will center our theme on Kaizen, one of the most often used Lean words but practically ambiguity has set in on the term. Kaizen stands for Continuous improvement, the Kai to break apart, to change and the Zen to study or to improve. Recently, the Kaizen Event and/or Kaizen Blitz which  is a 2 to 5 day event that intends to accelerate a continuous improvement effort, has started to be understood as “Kaizen”.  Very much two separate activities and meaning.

I have seen many definitions of Kaizen and one of my favorites is the outline supplied by Systems2win that discusses Kaizen as a tool to emphasize ways of thinking. They state that the ultimate objective of a continuous improvement effort is human development and the ultimate improvement effort is Employee Empowerment.

In another Systems2win training module on Lean implementation they discuss a problem in many lean initiatives is reducing inventory to quickly. Most companies are set on a Batch and queue type production system, which is more tolerant of quality problems, machine breakdowns, and other problems that stop production. When  you first move to a continuous flow type system many of the “rocks beneath the water of inventory” will surface and cause new problems. The recommendation is that you may not be ready for a Lean “Pull-type” continuous flow right out of the blocks and that a pull system should be implemented slowly so that each new rock can be removed as it surfaces.

I correlate this to Employee empowerment. It is a gradual change that must occur versus just telling an employee that they are in charge of their workspace now. Proper training to include but not limited to education, knowledge of upstream and downstream dependencies must be provided before an employee can be completely independent within their work area. Standard work employment is one of the first steps along with 5S that are used to accomplish this.

This type of Kaizen I believe is the ultimate Kaizen and one that should be practiced on a daily basis. It encourages everyone’s participation and the risk are very typical low.  I like to look at these as mini PDCA cycles that take place in any job. The accumulated effort of this type of structure can ultimately lead to very high rewards.

The rest of the week will host the following events:

Kaizen Event Planning Overview

Podcast with Mike Osterling, co-author of The Kaizen Event Planner: Achieving Rapid Improvement in Office, Service and Technical Environments

Case study Kaizen Initiative between Xerox and Sundyne

Value Stream Mapping E-book with Drew Locher

Using Rapid Kaizen in your Marketing

Moving from the Kaizen Event to Implementation


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