Kaizen – Japanese inspiration in management

IC Project , 10 December, 2018

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Nowadays, in the times of rapid development, the average life cycle of a product manufactured in the production cycle is 3 years. This gives rise to the need for introduction of new products on the market, improve those already in production or maintain the existing level of sales in similar or shorter cycles.

The foundation for development and introduction of new products are ideas. Estimates show that only 23 out of 333 ideas have features of originality, only 6 can be patented, 2 can provide grounds for products to be marketed and only 1 can be successful on the market. So, how to improve quality in our company? An interesting idea to draw inspiration from is the kaizen philosophy based on a Japanese management concept.

Concept of management

Kaizen is one of the basic management concepts. It is defined as continuous improvement of performed work and personal efficiency. This philosophy promotes the continuous development process that is also identified with improvement. As a business strategy, it consists in engagement of all employees in constant search for improvement ideas for all areas of the organisation. The goal is to eliminate current problems, prevent their recurrence in the future and create innovative solutions. This applies to all people in the organisation – both the members of the management and the employees. The concept assumes that continuous development regards every sphere of life – not only professional, but also private and social. Such an attitude is natural for many Japanese, therefore kaizen contributes to a great extent to the market success of Japan.

In kaizen, improvement is slow but continuous, thus yielding great results in the long run. It is a slow, cost-efficient process with little risk involved. Actions must be preceded with a declaration, clearly communicated in the company, well-thought and developed. Then, the management should prepare the implementation plan and consolidated their leadership by means of observance of the kaizen procedure at their own level.

Take care of your standard

In the management aspect, kaizen has two main functions: standard maintenance and improvement. Maintenance refers to the current technology level, operating standards and management in such a way that everybody can adhere to the relevant operating procedures. Improvement, on the other hand, refers to activities enhancing the standards. The main aspect making it different from the management method practices in the West is the process and management method-oriented course of thought. The employees are not assessed in terms of their performance and their activity in terms of proposing changes is astonishing – the sources show even 15 proposals per employee annually.

Improvement of standards can be referred to as kaizen or innovation. Kaizen means small, gradual efforts leading to changes. Whereas, innovation is a radical improvement, gained through great capital investments in new technologies or equipment. Kaizen brings long-term benefits for the enterprise, therefore it is not appreciated by the Western managers as they are interested in quick results. Kaizen is based on staff training, efforts, commitment, self-discipline, communication and team work.

Kaizen is a problem-solving process. The important thing is that the difficulty has to be both recognised and understood. The proper solution requires collection and analysis of relevant data. Collecting data regarding the current status helps understand the essence of the problem, decide what to concentrate on and what to improve first. The management should supervise and correct process errors. To ensure success of kaizen, the engagement of the top management must be demonstrated strongly and consistently. Employees usually like the status quo, thus they rarely take initiative to improve the situation. The managers must continuously motivate the employees and be a part of the team together with them.

A colleague our customer?

Product or service performance is composed of a set of processes. All processes have their suppliers and customers. Most employees of the enterprise have contact with internal customers, i.e. our employees. Information and materials are transferred from one process to another where they are improved and then proceed to the next stage. If all processes are treated in the company like
a customer, the external customer (on the market) will ultimately receive a high quality product. No defective parts or incomplete information should be transferred to the next process.

The kaizen philosophy can be used to manage any type of organisation. It requires neither special preparation nor high expenditures. It is, however, crucial to engage the employees and management. It is essential to create proper conditions for development of work culture conducive to innovativeness and motivating to positive behaviours.

Kaizen can be referred to as small steps method. Even the smallest actions yield effects in the long run. Commitment of employees is a great power on the way to the goal, but it is the management who should set it and lead in the efforts to accomplish it.

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