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Friday, February 4, 2011

Lean Quote: Strive for Continuous Improvement

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Don't be afraid to give up the good for the great." — John D. Rockefeller

An essential element in Lean thinking is Kaizen.  Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement or change for the better.  As no process can ever be declared perfect, there is always room for improvement.  Kaizen involves building on gains by continuing experimentation and innovation.

The cycle of kaizen activity can be defined as:
  • Standardize process
  • Measure the standardized process
  • Analyze measurements against requirements
  • Innovate to meet requirements and increase productivity
  • Standardize the new, improved process
  • Continue cycle infinitely
Kaizen involves every employee - from upper management to operators. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous.

Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste.  The western philosophy is often summarized as, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, the Kaizen philosophy is to "do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn't broken, because if we don't, we can't compete with those who do."
While Kaizen is really about improvement involving everyone everyday it is often associated with a structured event. In order for kaizen to be successful though it requires constant review.  Avoid common mistakes in your Kaizen like tackling too much at one time or striving for perfection. Embrace the challenge to improve your processes incrementally and often.
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