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Kaizen: History and Application

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Kaizen: History and Application
Jeff Goddard

In Japanese kaizen means continuous improvement. In order to understand the philosophy of Kaizen we must first look back at the history of the total quality movement in Japan following World War II. Once the war ended, there was very little left of Japan’s manufacturing infrastructure. Leading Japanese industrialists understood that in order to get the country back on track they would need to compete on an international level. They also understood that they would not be able to compete on cost alone. The Japanese industrialists invited two Americans to come and visit the war torn country and offer they philosophy on total quality. (David L. Goetsch, 2012) The work of Deming’s and Juran helped to turn around a Japanese manufacturing industry that had been plagued with quality problems into a world class manufacturing industry producing best in class quality products. Kaizen a term coined by Masaaki Imai embodies much of the Deeming’s and Juran philosophies in that it focuses upon ongoing improvement involving everybody all the time. In 1986 Masaaki Imai published Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, translated in fourteen languages the book allowed the world to get a better understanding of the principles of kaizen. Developed on the concept of continuous small incremental changes leading to larger changes accumulated over time. Kaizen promotes a culture that is dynamic and seeks to always make change for the better; by fostering this culture a kaizen organization never remains static waiting for a large innovation to facilitate change.
Kaizen is at its heart a cultural concept. In organizations with a traditional culture, performance improvement is erratic, reactive undertaking that is generally triggered by problems, whereas an organization with a quality culture is continuously improving processes, people, products, the working environment and every significant other factor that could affect overall performance. In order for an organization with a traditional culture to attempt the implementation of kaizen without creating a quality culture is to invite failure. Cultural change is one of the most difficult challenges an organization will ever attempt; progress will be slow and even in the best circumstances is the process of cultural changes could take years. Advocates of cultural change tend to focus solely on the intended benefits of the change while resisters tend to focus on the perceived threats brought on by the change. If not managed correctly this environment could divide an organization into warring camps that waste energy and time instead of focusing on the facilitation of change. It is important to involve potential resisters to the cultural change; by doing so the organization can understand their concerns and help remove the barriers that are preventing the cultural change from advancing. The discussion kaizen and cultural change is an important concept because generally much like Japan following World War II an organization attempting to implement kaizen is also attempting to transform its culture from that of a traditional quality culture to that of a quality culture in order to realize the intended benefits of kaizen.
The rationale for kaizen is that in order to compete in the global marketplace, just maintaining the status quo is a lot like standing still in a race. Remaining static for too long depending on the next technological innovation is often problematic. The kaizen process is based on common sense and low-cost approaches that assure incremental progress that pays off in the long run. Kaizen is designed to get everyone in the organization involved, to empower the entire organization to facilitate change for the better for the customer. Kaizen equals Continuous Improvement….. by Everybody, Everyday, and Everywhere. (Imai, 1997)

David L. Goetsch, S. D. (2012). Quality Management for Organizational Excellence: Introduction to Total Quality. Pearson.
Imai, M. (1997). Gemba kaizen: a commonsense, low cost approach to management. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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