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KaizenKaizen as a principle and what it means

Always think about improvements with Kaizen

Kaizen is a fundamental attitude of an employee towards their own work, the workplace and the quality of processes and products. Those who “live” Kaizen are firmly convinced that there is always something to be improved, simplified or optimized. That is why Kaizen is also referred to in German as the principle of continuous improvement and equated with the continuous improvement process (CIP).

Kaizen is not a method or a tool, but a way of thinking that all employees should internalize and implement in their activities. Masaaki Imai, the "inventor" of Kaizen, formulates this way of thinking as follows: "The message from Kaizen is that not a day should go by without some improvement in the company."

The term Kaizen comes from Japanese. It is made up of Kai = change, change; Zen = for the better. This means the permanent improvement of activities, processes, processes or products by all employees of a company. It does not depend on major innovations or fundamental changes, but on the involvement of all employees, the large number of suggestions for improvement, the rapid implementation and the visibility of the successes.

In western companies, Kaizen was named with the term continuous improvement process (CIP) or Continual / Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) translated or equated. In this way, the protagonists of Kaizen and CIP want to differentiate themselves from the classic and cumbersome company suggestion system, which has a long but often less successful tradition in western companies.

The principles of Kaizen

In order to make the way of thinking of the Kaizen easier to understand, some principles are linked to it, which are intended to guide the thoughts and actions of employees. These principles are:

  • daily improvements in all areas of a company
  • avoid any waste of material, time and money
  • Consider all downstream process steps as customers and then improve performance
  • Improvements are always possible, there is no end
  • constant improvements are made on a small scale and step by step
  • no restrictions on scope; Products, services, processes, activities, technology, workplace - everything can be improved
  • Different methods and tools are used, the decisive factor is the effect, not the procedure
  • Workplaces, work areas and the situation are viewed "on site", things are viewed and analyzed live
  • With constant improvements, ever higher standards are set and made the rule

Kaizen is a task for all employees in the company

All employees of a company are directly involved in the Kaizen. Everyone has to participate. Each individual employee should therefore invest a corresponding part of their working time for Kaizen and focus their commitment on implementation. The different groups of employees each take on different tasks within the Kaizen:

  • Top management must introduce Kaizen as a fundamental principle and drive and monitor its implementation. It creates the conducive framework conditions in the company.
  • Middle management implements the requirements of top management and ensures that standards are adhered to. It also promotes the mindset through appropriate training courses.
  • Foremen and team leaders support employees in developing ideas and implementing them. You take over the success controlling.
  • The workers and clerks at the operational level develop concrete suggestions for improvement and implement them. This can also be done in small groups. Kaizen employees improve their specialist knowledge and experience by participating in further training courses.

The following figure 1 shows which employee group can be involved with Kaizen and to what extent.

5S principle as an example for Kaizen in everyday life

In order to practice the way of thinking and principles of Kaizen in everyday life, a wealth of tools and rules of conduct have been developed that every employee should use or follow. An example of such a practical rule of conduct is the 5S principle. It prescribes:

  • Seiri: Remove unnecessary items from your work area!
  • Seiton: Organize the things that remained after Seiri!
  • Seiso: Keep your workplace clean!
  • Seiketsu: Make cleanliness and order your personal concern!
  • Shitsuke: make 5S a habit by setting standards!

The following Figure 2 shows an excerpt from a commercial workplace where this 5S principle is followed: All tools are organized and have their fixed location. The workplace is clean. Another improvement could be that the individual storage locations and storage boxes are labeled or provided with pictures so that it is clear where something can be found and where it has to go again after use.

Kaizen can be used anytime and anywhere

Even if Kaizen was originally developed and used as part of the automotive industry (Toyota production system) with its manufacturing and assembly processes, there is no organization and no company - regardless of the industry - that offers its services and quality in relation to customers and products , Services or processes cannot improve. Kaizen has become a universal mindset in all companies and all industries.

In companies without Kaizen, all employees must adhere to the existing rules and processes. Few managers have the task of thinking about what can be fundamentally improved over the long term. The Kaizen way of thinking says: Every employee has to think about it every day and make suggestions about what can be improved, simplified or optimized in their work or in their area.

In the late 1980s, a book hit like a bomb: The Machine That Changed the World by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos [1992]. The authors were responsible for a worldwide study in the 1980s to find out why the Japanese automakers were so vastly superior to their competitors in America and Europe. At that time, the term “lean production” was born, which has since become an essential management paradigm not only in industrial companies but in all sectors.

With their study, the experts recognized that the principle of continuous improvement is an important element of lean production. Since the Japanese companies were pioneers here too, the Japanese term for “kaizen” went around the world. Masaaki Imai is considered the "father" and pioneer of the Kaizen philosophy.

In what form are workplaces, activities, processes, processes, products or services changed and improved in your company?

  • How often are there such changes and improvements?
  • Who or what is the reason for changes and improvements?
  • What successes has it brought in recent years?
  • In what way are the employees in the corporate divisions and hierarchical levels involved in improving their own performance and the products and processes?
  • How does the company suggestion scheme work in your company?
  • To what extent is Kaizen an established principle in your company?

Use the following template to take stock of the conditions and possibilities of Kaizen in your company.

In the following sections of this manual, you will learn what makes Kaizen particularly special in a company, where it starts (examples) and how you can introduce and anchor this mindset in your company.