What was it that made Japan, a country that was completely devastated in the second world war, acquire such heights that the whole world now looks up to see it. Kaizen and Kanban are the two words responsible for the development of Japan. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement, taken from words Kai means continuous and zen means improvement. Kanban is a Japanese term that means, signal. It signals a cycle of replenishment for production and materials. It maintains an orderly and efficient flow of materials throughout the entire manufacturing process. It is usually a printed card that contains specific information such as part name, description, quantity, etc. Japan is the only nation that can be compared to a phoenix. No one ever wondered how a war-struck country in the Far-East could, in the period of a little more than 50 years, shook the developed nations of the West. It is not just hard work that has helped Japan to set the gears clanging and the pistons reciprocating in their industries; an eye for detail has all the while supplemented this work
How did they do it?
Adopting the method of continuous improvement, which Masaaki Imai termed as Kaizen, the Japanese have fine-tuned the progress of a product between automated units. Kaizen is associated with a range of improvement techniques, including employee empowerment on the shop floor and single piece flow on the production line. Another production term, which originated in Japanese industries and has now percolated into other parts of the world, is Kanban. The sequence of Kanban, a manual production scheduling technique, moves upstream whenever items are required from suppliers and downstream with the stock of finished items. Production is controlled or pulled through by demand often originating from the end-user / customer. Kaizens step-by-step approach however is in direct contrast to the great leap forward to innovation. In a company, which follows Kaizen, managers and team leaders are visible and easily accessible to the staff they work with. Kaizen places emphasis on upward communication. Ideas from people on the shop floor serving the customers in frontline positions have to percolate up the ladder to the top management to contribute to the overall performance improvement of the company. The PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) cycle corresponds to Edward Demings production wheel which stresses on interactions between research, design, production and sales for improving customer satisfaction through better quality output.
The Kaizen leader
In a Kaizen company, employees are organised into work teams led by team leaders. A Kaizen team leader will be a coach, communicator, trainer, motivator and a resource his team can use to interact with the senior management for funds to be used for improvement. He will have responsibility for quality, improvement and productivity; and will focus his attention on people directly and results indirectly. A teams success will depend first on the extent to which its purpose is clear and homogeneous, and secondly to the degree to which it is enabled. In a nutshell, a Kaizen team behaves like a mini-company. The leader recognises the primacy of human relationship skills. His responsibilities differentiate him from traditional supervisors who can be more responsive to and driven more by quantitative output than the quality of process, relationship and working environment. Such factors as ownership, sharing, self-management, consensus management and a close intra-team liaison characterise a Kaizen team and by direct implication, the role of a Kaizen leader.
Concept of enablement
Communication, training, motivation and empowerment lead to enabled performance. Enablement produces employees who can think, decide and act critically. It means creating an ethos, where it is normal to respond to customer service needs, irrespective of job task and function. Recruitment and induction strategy need to be continually reviewed to ensure that the Kaizen approach of continuous improvement is guaranteed. Abraham Maslows hierarchy of human needs consists of self-development, self respect, belonging, physical safety, food and shelter. These attributes are to be considered for the development of an employee.
The Kaizen suggestion system consists of idea generation, brainstorming, presentation to management, request for funds, approval from management and subsequent adaptation for the improvement of a product. The employee gets the benefit and the reward for saving in the cost of production. Other methods include Quality circle, JIT management and Statistical Process Control. Suggestion scheme, Quality Circles (QC) and Total Quality Control (TQC) programmes are some of the methods to improve communication upwards. The employees thus get wholly involved; the results are product improvement and management support.
Of the six satisfaction elements, the most influential is the culture element. It is the driver behind the companys values, ethics, standards of performance, relationship, conduct and behaviour expected of employees. Kaizen is a powerful cultural force, which states that profit will be earned ultimately through customer satisfaction. The concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) is rooted in Kaizen. It involves everyone in the company, suppliers and shareholders in improving business and increasing customer satisfaction. Kaizen offers to all organisations a philosophy that encourages continuously setting higher standards of performance and achieving new goals in terms of customer satisfaction, sales and profit. Cooperative relationship between supplier and buyer is common. A strong three-way relationship between company, customer and supplier should exist.
A Kaizen person pays attention to details, is receptive to constructive advice, is willing to take responsibility and cooperate. It tells us that by being constantly aware and making many small improvements, it is possible to produce goods and services of genuine quality to satisfy customers.