Friday, March 15, 2013

Lean Quote: Sometime the Best Kaizen is No Kaizen at All

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.

"Sometimes the best kaizen is no kaizen at all." — Jon Miller, Kaizen Institute

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.

Many think Kaizen is about some sort of 5 day event where you shut down and make improvement.  Maybe this idea is fed by consultants in some manner but Kaizen in fact is not this.  It is about small incremental change, the type of change that makes it easier to do your job.  A change in which the people doing the task are intimately involved in the improvement.

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.

Real Kaizen thinking is based on making these 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."

Once we make this way of thinking normal the lack of any sort of event goes away. The ultimate goal is a culture of continuously looking at processes with an eye for improvement.  So I think Jon Miller is correct when he said, “sometimes the best Kaizen is no Kaizen at all.”

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