Kaizen – An Umbrella Concept


In Japanese, Kaizen means continual improvement that involves everyone -  both managers and workers and entails relatively little expense.  The Kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of Life - be it working life, our social life or our homelife – should focus on constant improvement efforts.  Kaizen has contributed greatly to Japan's competitive success.

Innovation is dramatic, a real attention getter.  Kaizen on the other hand, is often undramatic and subtle.  But innovation is one-shot, huge amount is spent and it's results are often problematic, while Kaizen process, based on commonsense and low cost approaches, assures incremental progress that pays off in the long run.

Masaaki Imai is known as the developer of Kaizen.  It is AN UMBRELLA CONCEPT.  There are different tools/techniques like Five-S, JIT, TPM, MISER. Poka Yoke, Takt time, 5 Why, 5 W 1H and many more under this Kaizen umbrella.


Kaizen starts with recognizing the problem.  Once aware, we are already halfway to success.  For reaching to the root cause or real problem 5 Why technique is useful.

  1. Suppose, you find a worker throwing sawdust on the floor in the corridor between machines.

            1st question :    "Why are you throwing sawdust on the floor."

                  Answer :    "Because the floor is slippery and unsafe."

            2nd question :  "Why is it slippery and unsafe?"

                   Answer :  "Because there is oil on it."

            3rd question : "Why there is oil on it?"

                  Answer : "Because the machine is dripping."

            4th question : "Why is it dripping?"

                   Answer : "Because the oil is leaking from oil coupling."

            5th Question : "Why is it leaking?"

                   Answer : "Because the rubber lining inside the coupling is worn out."

            Very often by asking "Why?" five times we can identify the root cause and take a counter measure, such as replacing the rubber lining with a metal lining to stop oil leakage once and for all.

  1. Another technique, five S's may be called a philosophy, a way of life in our daily work.  The essence of 5 S is to follow that has been agreed upon.  It begins with discarding what we don't need in *gemba (Seiri in Japanese) and then arranging all the necessary items in gemba in an orderly manner (seiton).  This is also called as PEEP: Place for Everything and Everything in Place.  Then a clean environment must be sustained so that we can readily identify abnormalities (Seiso) and the above three steps must be maintained on a continuous basis (Seiketsu).  Last that is the 5th S is Self Discipline and training (Shitsuke) means following all 4 S's mentioned above.
  2. JIT (Just-in-time) : A system designed to achieve the best possible quality, cost and delivery products and services by eliminating all kinds of muda (avoiding all types of waste) in a company's internal processes and deliver products just-in-time to meet customer's requirements.  Originally developed by Toyota Motor Company.
  3. MISER : Merge, Improvise, Simplify, Eliminate, Reduce - Reuse - Recycle
  4. Takt time : The theoretical time it takes to produce a piece of product ordered by the customer : as determined by dividing the total production time by the number of units to be produced.
  5. Poka Yoke :  means error proofing of production and/or administration process.  It helps in making the operations error free and thereby zero-defect.

These are few examples.

Peter Teufel, managing partner of the Kaizen Institute reports that one of his clients was about to buy additional machines to handle an increase in business.  When Teufel found that the utilization ratio of existing equipment was 38 percent, he recommended the management to increase the ratio by implementing KAIZEN instead of buying new machines.  The company saved 15 million deutsche marks without compromising quality or delivery.

We often fail to implement any imported system because we tend to copy first, then struggle and give it up rather than adapt it by studying the principles and the process underlying it.

No one can dispute value of the improvement.  The Kaizen philosophy is based on the fact that our life -  be it working life, social life or home-life needs to be constantly improved.  This means whether you are in a manufacturing industry or service industry, you must enlighten yourself on Kaizen and apply in all walks of life.

Toyota has gained one of the leading positions in the Global automotive industry by living and breathing Kaizen principles.

While undergoing Self Expression and Leadership program under Landmark curriculum, I got an opportunity to take up a community project on Kaizen.  I am grateful that I got to experience the wonderful world of Kaizen and could apply it in my personal & business life.

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