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Total Customer Satisfaction, Theory of Constraints, Materials Requirement Planning, Enterprise Resource Planning, Just-In-Time, Total Quality Management, Business Process Reengineering and Flow Technology are some of the initiatives that have been launched in industry over the last decade. While some companies implementing these programs have achieved significant advances in quality, speed and costs, most have failed to achieve promised results. According to industry gurus, the winners attribute their success to adopting the following management practices:

  • Creating a clear vision or strategy

  • Real-time management commitment

  • A focus on processes rather than results

  • Timely management support

  • Effective tactical planning

  • Ongoing relevant training

  • Empowering a qualified program champion

  • Team dynamics development

  • Monitoring tactical execution

  • Implementing a recognition/reward system

I agree with the above list, but I believe that most companies employ most of these management practices in their business. Why is it then that when most companies launch a new quality, production or inventory control  initiative it slowly and gradually transcends into just another failed management attempt to improve performance? "New programs never thrive, they just fade away" is the hallmark of such companies and consequently they never reach their full growth and profit potentials.  

So if the above list of management practices doesn't really separate the winners from the also-rans - what does? Why are some companies successful at obtaining positive results from such initiatives while other companies fail? If it's not on the above list of manage-ment practices - what is it? 

I try to answer that question in this week's article. It appears below. 

Have a nice day, and stay connected.

Bill Gaw

P.S. Don't miss September's Special MBBP Subscribers offer at the bottom of the article.

Business Basics, LLC
6003 Dassia Way
Oceanside, CA 92056 

The Answer: KAIZEN, Quick-Hitting Process Improvement

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. Their huge success stories are testimonials to kaizen. Vince Lombardi focused his players on the continuous improvement of the execution of 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 their most important features: 

Workplace Effectiveness 

The 5Ss:

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

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

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

  4. Systematize - - Develop routine practices for cleaning and checking.

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

 Elimination of  Waste, Strain and Discrepancy 

A simple checkpoint systems

  1. Manpower

  2. Technique

  3. Methods

  4. Time

  5. Facilities

  6. Jigs and Fixtures

  7. Materials

  8. Production Volume

  9. Inventory

  10. Place

  11. 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

  1. 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.

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

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

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.  



  1. Represent the best, easiest and safest way to do a job.

  2. Offer the best way to preserve know-how and expertise

  3. Provide a way to measure performance

  4. Show the relationship between cause and effect.

  5. Provide a basis for both maintenance and improvements

  6. Provide objectives and indicate training goals

  7. Create a basis for audit or diagnosis

  8. Provide a means for preventing recurrence of errors and minimizing variability

 "If not, why not - The Whys" checklist 

A. Operator

  1. Does he follow standards?

  2. Is his work efficiency acceptable?

  3. Is he problem-conscious?

  4. Is he responsible? Accountable?

  5. Is he qualified?

  6. Experienced?

  7. Is he assigned to the right job?

B. Machine/Facilities

  1. Does it meet production requirements?

  2. Does it meet process capabilities?

  3. Is the maintenance effective?

  4. Is the inspection adequate?

  5. Does it meet quality requirements?

  6. Does it make any unusual noises?

  7. Is the layout effective?

C. Materials

  1. Is there excess work-In-process?

  2. Is the right material in the right place at the right time?

  3. Is there rework and scrap?

  4. Is there any wasted materials?

  5. Is the handling efficient?

  6. Is the work-in-process damaged?

  7. Is the layout effective?

  8. Is quality standard adequate?

D. Operations Method

  1. Are the work standards effective?

  2. Are work standards upgraded?

  3. Do methods produce a good product?

  4.  Is it an efficient method?

  5. Does the sequence of work create a smooth flow?

  6. Is setup time minimized?

  7. Are the temperatures and humidity acceptable?

  8. Are the lighting and ventilation adequate?

  9. Is there adequate contact with the previous and next process?

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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