Concepts of Kaizen

The essence of most “uniquely Japanese” management practices—productivity improve­ment, TQC activities, QC (Quality Control) circles, or labour relations—can be reduced to one word, Kaizen. Using the term Kaizen in place of such words as productivity, TQC, ZD (zero defects) Kanban, and the suggestion system paints a far clearer picture of what has been happening in Japanese industry. Kaizen is regarded as a conceptual “umbrella” consisting of a collection of Japanese practices and includes customer orientation, total quality control, robotics, QC circles, suggestion systems, automation, discipline in the workplace, total productive maintenance, Kanban, just-in-time, zero defects, new product development, small group activities, productivity improvement, statistical quality control and cooperative labour/management relations.1

1. Getting Started with Kaizen

Kaizen is about taking action to generate suggestions and then implementing these imme­diately. Some of the micro-level techniques for implementing Kaizen are mentioned below. Some of the techniques have been discussed in detail in the chapter.

  • Involved and committed employees who use commonsense and creativity.
  • Various types of check sheets or checklists.
  • Active use of the seven quality control tools—Pareto chart, cause-and-effect diagram, his­tograms, control charts, scatter diagram, check sheets, graphs, etc.
  • Systematic questioning techniques like 5W1H (What, When, Where, Whom, Why and How).
  • Concept of the Deming Wheel (PDCA) and poka-yoke
  • Use of the Simply, Combine, Add and Automate, Re-arrange, Eliminate (SCARE) principle.
  • Elimination of muda, mura and muri along with 5 S.
  • Group dynamics.
  • Principles of standardization and visual management.
  • Some inputs on organizational behaviour topics such as team building, inter- and intra­group behaviour.

2. Gemba Kaizen

Masaaki Imai, the chairman of the Kaizen Institute, propounded the concept of Gemba Kaizen. Gemba in Japanese means “real place,” or the place where real action occurs. The problem with most managers is that they prefer their desk to be their workplace, and wish to distance themselves from the events taking place in the gemba. Most managers come in con­tact with reality only through their daily, weekly or even monthly reports or other meetings. The report from the gemba is merely secondary information. The manager’s first priority should be to go to the gemba and observe the situation. When managers go to the gemba, what they see is the real data.

The five gemba principles are shown below:

  1. Go to the gemba: Many managers learn about the problems that occurred in the gemba from a report that reaches them several days or weeks later. When there is a problem (abnor­mality), it is the manager’s responsibility to go to the gemba first. This helps the managers get first-hand information about the problems.
  2. Check the gembutsu: Gembutsu, another Japanese term, refers to tangible items that one can hold or feel. These may be machines, tools, rejects and customer complaints. If a machine is down (the machine itself is the gembutsu), go to the gemba and have a look at the machine. By looking at the machine and asking the question “why” several times, you can probably find out the reason for the breakdown on the spot.
  3. Take temporary measures or countermeasures on the spot: To begin with, take temporary countermeasures on the spot to solve the problem. For instance, if a customer is angry, you will need to apologize or even give some gifts to appease him. However, these are only tem­porary measures and do not address the real issue that lead us to the next point.
  4. Find the root cause: If any problem occurs, go to the root cause by repeating the question “why” several times. This will enable one to find out the root cause of the problem.
  5. Standardize to prevent recurrence: Once you identify the root cause and come up with appropriate measures, you should standardize such a measure so that the same problem will not recur.

3. Major Tools of Gemba Kaizen

One major tool of gemba Kaizen is waste elimination. There are three types of wastes— muda, muri and mura. Gemba Kaizen is the process of identifying, reducing and eliminating muda, muri and mura from the gemba.

Muda in Japanese means work without a product or effort wasted. Muda is any wasteful activity or any obstruction to the smooth flow of an activity.

Activity = Work + Muda

Expenditure = Cost + Waste

Each activity is associated with a cost. Any expenditure on the muda is a waste. Therefore, less muda equals happier clients (as it impacts quality, cost and delivery of products and ser­vices). The various types of muda are as follows:

  1. Muda of overproduction: This is regarded as the worst type of muda. If you produce more than your customer needs, you have extra pieces that need to be taken care of and expenses for handling and keeping in stock.
  2. Muda of inventory: This is the result of overproduction. If you process only those prod­ucts that the next process needs, you can eliminate the muda of inventory altogether.
  3. Muda of waiting How often do you see operators just waiting for the materials to arrive or the machine to start? No value is added when there is a long waiting period.
  4. Muda of motion: No value addition takes place when operators simply move around looking for tools or going to get the work pieces.
  5. Muda of transportation: No value addition is made when materials are moving on the trucks, forklifts or on the conveyor.
  6. Muda of producing rejects: Producing rejects leads to rework, or else rejects must be thrown away and this is indicative of a big muda.
  7. Muda of processing: By rearranging the working sequence, you can often eliminate a particu­lar process. The concept of muda elimination is central to Kaizen since elimination does not cost any money.

Muri in Japanese refers to an overburdened system. This leads to physical strain at the workplace such as bending to work, pushing hard, lifting weight, repeating tiring action and wasteful walk.

Mura in Japanese refers to the unevenness in the flow of work. Mura relates to the incon­sistencies in the system.

Source: Poornima M. Charantimath (2017), Total Quality Management, Pearson; 3rd edition.

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