“Kai zen” is a Sino-Japanese word where “Kai” means “change” and “Zen” means “good or better” or to say “change for the better”. It refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, big or small in the same sense as the word “improvement” in English. In Japan all industrial or business improvement techniques are labelled “Kai zen”. Though the concept of Kaizen originated in Japan and is considered ‘The key to Japan’s Competitive Success’, these practices are now regarded as sound principles and applied by the managers world over. Companies/organisations in the world are, today, following the KAI ZEN concept for continuous improvement in quality, operations, productivity, technology, processes, cost reduction, company culture, leadership and personal efficiency. Kaizen does not mean that the improvements should be huge and drastic. It aims to systematically take incremental steps towards improvement. This concept as a business philosophy has become popular because, it aims at continuous and gradual improvement at minimal cost, involving and optimally utilizing the existing labour/staff from CEO to the level of a janitor. The companies hold periodic KAI ZEN conferences to celebrate success and reward those who contribute effectively.
Let us understand the principles on which “Kai zen” works.
“Kai zen” works on three basic principles, which are;
• Identifying & Eliminating Muda(waste)
HOUSEKEEPING. Housekeeping is a process of managing the workplace where value is added to the products or services before passing them to the next process where they are formed. For proper housekeeping the process is called 5 ‘S’ methodology. The term 5 S is derived from the first letters of five Japanese words which denote five practices which lead to a clean and manageable workplace. These practices are Seiri(Sort)), Seiton(Straighten), Seiso(Sweep), seiketsu(Sanitize) and Shitsuke(Sustain). Action required under each practice is as under:
SEIRI (SORT). Separate things which are not needed and put a red tag on all such articles. Give everyone to identify if something is of use out of the separated items. All items with red tag which nobody identifies as needed should be eliminated by sale to employee, scrap dealer or transfer to trash for proper waste management/processing. The idea is to ensure that everything left in the workplace is related to work. When this is done effective use of space, simplification of tasks becomes possible. Future purchases are also rationalized.
SIETON (STRAIGHTEN). This step requires “ A place for everything, and everything in place” that is, everything required in the process is assigned a place and put in its assigned place so that when required it can be accessed or retrieved quickly and should be returned to the same place immediately after its use. The correct place for everything must be decided keeping in view the work flow and people who will use it. Each location must be labelled prominently for easy identification. This results in efficiency of the work flow because no time is lost in locating things.
SEISO (SWEEP). The third step is cleaning the workplace and giving it a pleasing look. No area should be left unclean. Every employee should look areas assigned to them as a visitor and should ensure it it gives a good impression.
SEIKETSU (SANITIZE). This step, more or less, means to set up standards for cleanliness and tidiness. It requires both personal tidiness and work place cleanliness. Standardizing expectations makes them automatic and empowers all involved to monitor and make adjustments to achieve performance benchmarks.
SHITSUKU (SUSTAIN). To maintain, what is achieved in the first four steps above, requires discipline and commitment. Once this self discipline is achieved, personnel voluntarily observe cleanliness and orderliness at all times, without anybody reminding.
IDENTIFYING & ELIMINATING MUDA (WASTE). The next step in achieving Kai zen is identifying & eliminating muda, a Japanese word meaning, waste. The entire process of manufacturing/assembling of a product from procurement of raw materials to the final product is series of value-adding-activities. In Kai zen, the aim is to identify & eliminate seven types of waste caused by over production, waiting, transportation, unnecessary stock, over processing, motion and of defective parts. These are discussed briefly here after.
Muda of overproduction. Overproduction occurs due to expectations of a machinery breakdown, defective products which are likely to be rejected and employee absenteeism. But this overproduction to meet sales targets results in tremendous wastage in terms of excess inventory, manpower and utilities, excess storage, added transportation and administrative costs and also on account of additional interest on capital employed.
Muda Of Inventory. Maintaining excess inventory in the shape of finished and semi finished goods, raw materials and spares do not add any value, rather it adds to the cost of operations. Deterioration in quality, especially in case of products with limited shelf life adds heavily to the cost. Just in time (JIT) system of production helps to solve the problem.
Muda of Rejects. Production of defective products result in rejections, returned sales, interruption in the production process and loss of credibility among customers. Streamlined process and worker training coupled with regular and frequent checks can solve the problems. Workers views on quality of materials and machines can also give an insight into the reasons.
Muda of Motion. Unnecessary movement of workers, materials and equipment do not add any value to the output and should be eliminated. Workers movements while working should be ergonomic to reduce fatigue. Flow/movement of materials should involve minimum effort in terms of physical effort. Equipment required during process should positioned such that those who need them don’t waste time in accessing it.
Muda of Processing. Wastage during process occurs due to lack of proper synchronisation and bottlenecks. Such deficiencies should be studied and eliminated after discussions with workers, supervisors, helpers and works manager. The number of workers in a process should be minimized, as more workers mean longer process time, incidence of more mistakes, longer process time and consequently avoidable process costs. Training of workers is also very important. Lack of proper training can derail the entire production process. Wastage during process is also due to insufficient and defective machinery equipment. For example, if more than one worker is to work on some equipment, there will be waiting period and wastage of worker’s time and delays in the production time. Worn out machines will mean frequent breakdowns and repairs resulting in disruption of production, loss of man hours, delayed deliveries and consequential financial costs.
Muda of Waiting. Idle time in a process line is wastage of resources. It can be due to imbalances in the production line, delay in delivery of materials and breakdowns. These need to be carefully planned according to the production process and plan.
Muda of Transportation. Transportation of materials is an important part of operations in any production process. This may be in the form conveyors, forklifts, cranes, trolleys or vehicles. Production process should be designed in such a way which minimises the movement and distance from the source of supply/storage to the point of use.
The process of continuously identifying , reducing and eliminating the above mentioned wastes from the work place is the essence of Kaizen, but the following must be kept in mind.
- All people across the organization from top to bottom must be involved. The suggestion system is an essential part in Kai zen.
- Immediate action on the suggestions is very important. In order to ascertain whether the implementation of suggestion has been successful in eliminating wastage or not, collection of data and analysis of the same is very important.
- Once the process for elimination of wastage is confirmed to be effective the process should be STANDARDIZED across the organization for continuous implementation till scope for further improvement is found