Kaizen is the basis for "Lean" manufacturing processes made legendary by Toyota but widely applied now to many other industries.
Dr W. Edwards Deming was one of the key originators of these principles, and reading his original ideas is refreshing and somewhat surprising in their bluntness and practicality - and also in their wide application to almost any kind of business enterprise.
In his book Out of the Crisis, Dr Deming shared his philosophy of continuous improvement (my comments are added in italics):
- Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business and to provide jobs. Have a clear philosophy - not just about money but about sustainability and job creation.
- Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change. Just do it - keep revisiting.
- Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. Do it the right first time as much as possible.
- End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimise total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust. Use local firms where possible, and use organisations and people that fit well - the overall result will be lower cost.
- Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity and thus constantly decrease costs. Be constantly aware of how processes and systems may be improved and write these things down.
- Institute training on the job. Give time to this - don’t rely on external training, learning on the job will give greater satisfaction to staff as their skills increase. Don’t expect them to “just know”.
- Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Be present and give and receive feedback on a regular basis.
- Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company. Be approachable, admit fault, be fair and empower others - it will win respect.
- Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales and production must work as a team to foresee problems of production and use of the product or service. Communicate with co-workers, and treat everyone as of equal value. It will encourage work satisfaction, and team cohesion and so honesty and creativity will increase.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
- Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute with leadership.
- Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.
- Encourage one another and accept mistakes as normal to learning and developing new, good things.
- Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality. Quality comes from focus and teamwork, not just pumping out work.
- Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objectives. Let people enjoy coming up with their own solutions, and taking responsibility for projects themselves.
- Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement. encourage everyone to take time to 'sharpen your saw.'
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job. Involve everyone, as much as possible in the wide view - talk about sales and marketing with engineering people, and help salespeople understand the technical challenges.
In Western civilisation, kaizen is often broken down into four steps: assess, plan, implement and evaluate.