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Basic No. 6: Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)
By Bill Gaw

A study of successful companies will invariably show that they have developed a culture of gradual, continuous improvement. This culture provides the basis for new initiative implementation success. The Japanese call it kaizen - a management culture of gradual, continuous improvement. I describe it as "a tenacious focus on quick-hitting, process improvements."

If you doubt the power of gradual, continuous improvement you need to study the careers of Vince Lombardi and Tiger Woods (the early years). Their huge success stories are testimonials to kaizen. Vince Lombardi focused his players on the continuous improvement of the execution of football basics - that's kaizen! Tiger Woods attributed his success to his relentless quest for a better swing, for higher quality gamesmanship and a daily pursuit of perfection - that's also kaizen! 

In business, kaizen focuses on three basics; Workplace Effectiveness, Elimination of Waste and Standardization. As an introduction to kaizen, I have delineated below five important features: 

Workplace Effectiveness 

The 5Ss:

Sort - - - - - Separate work-in-process, tools, machinery, products and documentation into necessary and the unnecessary and discard the unnecessary.

Straighten - - For easy and fast access when needed, everything has a place and everything is in its place.

Scrub - - - - - Keep machines and working environments clean.

Systematize - - Develop routine practices for cleaning and checking.

Standardize - - Follow procedures and standardize. Continuously improve processes and reestablish standards.

Elimination of  Waste, Strain and Discrepancy 

A simple checkpoint systems

Manpower - Technique - Methods - Time - Facilities - Jigs and Fixtures -
Materials - Production Volume - Inventory - Place - Way of thinking

 The Five Ws and the One H 

WHO - Who does it? Who is doing it? Who should be doing it? Who else can do it? Who else should do it?  

WHAT - What to do? What is being done? What should be done? What else can be done? What else should be done? 

WHERE - Where to do it? Where is it done? Where should it be done? Where else can it be done? Where else should it be done? 

WHEN - When to do it? When is it done? When should it be done? What other time can it be done? What other time should it be done? 

WHY - Why does he do it? Why do it? Why do it there? Why do it then? Why do it that way? 

HOW - How to do it? How is it done? How should it be done? Can this method be used in other areas? Is there any other way to do it?

 Problem-Solving Tools

Pareto diagrams - Used to display the relative importance of all of the problems or conditions in order to: choose the starting point for problem solving, monitor success, or identify the basic cause of a problem.

Cause-and-effect diagrams - Used to identify and explore and display the possible causes of a specific problem or cause.

Histograms - Used to discover and display the distribution of data by bar graphing the number of units in each category

Control Charts - Used to discover how much variability in a process is due to random variation and how much is due to unique events and/or individual action in order to determine whether a process is in statistical control

Scatter diagrams - Used when you need to display what happens to one variable when another variable changes in order to test a theory that the two variables are related.

Graphs - There are many kinds of graphs employed depending on the shape desired and the purpose of analysis. Bar graphs compare values via parallel bars, while line graphs are used to illustrate variation over a period of time. Circle graphs indicate the categorical breakdown of values; radar charts assist in the analysis of previously evaluated items

Checklists - Used to gather data based on sample observations in order to begin to detect patterns. This is the logical point to start in most problem-solving cycles.  

Kaizen calls for use of the full PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Action) problem-solving cycle. PDCA demands that team members not only identify problem areas but also identify the causes, analyze them, implement and test new countermeasures and establish new standards and/or procedures.  



*  Represent the best, easiest and safest way to do a job.
*  Offer the best way to preserve know-how and expertise
*  Provide a way to measure performance
*  Show the relationship between cause and effect
*  Provide a basis for both maintenance and improvements
*  Provide objectives and indicate training goals
*  Create a basis for audit or diagnosis
* Provide a means for preventing errors and minimizing variability

Kaizen keeps you thinking and proactive in your pursuit to improve. Bottom line results come slowly but surely and these incremental gains eventually add up to a significant competitive advantage. The spirit of kaizen can also provide innovative actions that can yield amazing breakthroughs in speed, quality and cost. 

Without kaizen, you and your employer will gradually become complacent and accept the status quo as your business culture. As I see it, the lack of kaizen in a business culture is the primary cause of new program failures and the downfall of many companies. 


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