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PRODUCTIVITY IMPROVEMENT We need more KAIZEN and less KAIWAARU

17 April 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Sunil .G. Wijesinha
Kaizen is a Japanese word. KAI means change and ZEN means better, the two words together mean - change for the better, or improvement.

The concept of KAIZEN, which is now globally popular, means much more than simply “changing for the better”.  It is a strong philosophy, a new culture, a desire to make small but important improvements all the time, and by every person in the organisation. It was Masaaki Imai who brought out the concept to the attention of the world outside Japan through his famous book “KAIZEN; The Secret of Japan’s Competitive Success”.



Focusing on small things
KAIZEN means many things including; focusing on small improvements first rather than on the big ones, utilising everyone’s potential and knowledge rather than depending on a few experts, having a philosophy that all problems have a solution and that nothing is impossible, rather than presuming that there are some unchangeable factors, implementing a continual stream of small improvements at a steady pace rather than some big changes once in a while, and done at every place where some work is done. This is very different to the so called “big bang” approach which focuses on “big” or very significant improvements once in a while.
According to Masaaki Imai, the success of many Japanese methods such as Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Circles (QCC), Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Zero Defects (ZD) etc owes its success to the underlying KAIZEN philosophy. In a traditional organisation the Top management and to a lesser extent the Middle management will concern themselves with innovation, the Supervisors and Workers are expected be concerned with maintaining the status quo and ensuring that all work happens according to the standard operating procedures. In the Japanese model however there is a layer of KAIZEN between Innovation and pure maintenance of standard operations, and that is KAIZEN where there is a role for all.  




Host of simple changes
KAIZEN is practiced at different levels; higher level improvements by the top and middle management, and floor level improvements by Supervisors and workers. At the bottom level, opportunity is given to front line workers to come up with improvement suggestions, and they are helped to implement these improvements. The underlying belief is that front line workers, having performed  their tasks over and over many times and for many years maybe, have many good suggestions to make. Kaizens at the bottom level usually do not require capital expenditure. They are simple changes that may make a small difference, but it is the collection of these changes that could make a significant improvement to the organisation.

A simple example of a Kaizen in an office is when trainer who asks his office Aid to make photocopies of the course material and would ask a student to distribute them, not realising that the original is also in the same pack of materials. The original too would mistakenly go to a student and it is photocopy (which is less sharp than the original) that is left for the trainer to make copies another day. The KAIZEN was to make a small triangular cut on the top right hand corner of the original which does not show in photo copying. The original could always be recognised and recovered. This is an example to show how a simple change without extra expenditure could improve productivity.

In a factory a simple example was the inability to spot that the cooling fan, located inside a machine, has stopped working. The KAIZEN was to attach 9 inch long streamers to the grill of all the machines. When the fans are working the streamers would be flying horizontally due to the blowing, while the defective one would be stationary. Another simple example. There are many examples of workers making much more complex changes and significantly improving productivity, quality, on time delivery, safety and customer satisfaction.



Kaizen mindset
Everybody in the organisation is expected to have the Kaizen mindset and make improvements on a daily basis. However at the front line level, be they factory workers or workers in offices, shops and hospitals, employees need a simple structure. It is for these employees that the Kaizen Suggestion Scheme is useful. Kaizen suggestions are different to the suggestion box method where employees are asked to insert their suggestions into a box. Even in Sri Lanka the box method had failed in many instances when undesired comments were dropped in, and when the middle management was uncomfortable of suggestions made by their subordinates bypassing them. The Kaizen suggestion scheme is different, because the middle management has a role to play, and furthermore it is a transparent process. When a worker has an idea he would fill a form explaining the idea, or just go up to his immediate superior and explain the idea. Thereafter it is the responsibility of the superior to work with the suggestor and polish up the suggestion so that something useful comes out of it.

While the Western style suggestion scheme will reward a good suggestion with some percentage of the annual savings, the Kaizen suggestions are very small improvements and rewards are usually not in proportion to the saving. They are token rewards. Different organisations have different mechanisms. Some reward the first, third, fifth, tenth suggestion and so on. Some give prizes for the most number of suggestions per month etc. The supervisors and department heads are also rewarded by calculating the Kaizen participation rate and other indicators. According to the Japanese system the objective is to obtain many suggestions per worker, which means the focus is on the quantity of suggestions rather than the quality of suggestions. The obvious reason being to motivate worker by keeping him involved and making him feel that he could use his brains too to contribute to the organisation.





Japanese companies
In many Japanese companies an employee gives about 50 suggestions a year. I have listened to a presentation in Japan where the employees implement more than one Kaizen per day. In East Asia change for the better is in their culture while in South Asia maintaining the status quo is preferred, says a Sri Lankan management guru. It is for this reason that a Kaizen suggestion programme has to be systematically introduced in Sri Lanka. An Indian company had an innovative approach. The Managing Director, whenever he toured a plant, would stop occasionally and ask a worker “What Kaizen have you done recently?” At first he got no answers. Workers were very uneasy and ashamed that they could give no answers and thereafter strived hard to come up with some useful Kaizens. In a matter of months the MD was inundated with descriptions of Kaizen carried out by workers. It is a very well known company today exporting many of its products to Sri Lanka as well.
During the period I was a consultant on productivity to the then Ministry of Industrial Development in the 1990s and Kaizen was being popularised, the Additional Secretary was listening to the long winded and sometimes meaningless discussions during a Ministry progress review meetings, and whispered to me “ I don’t know about Kaizen but we are clearly very competent at Kaiwaru”. If we are serious about improving our competitiveness we certainly need more Kaizen and less Kaiwaru.

(The writer is the President of Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Quality and Productivity)
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