The good and bad of the Kaizen Philosophy

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy for process improvement. “Kai” means to break apart and investigate, and “Zen” means to improve upon the existing situation. This philosophy has taken over the minds of everyone in an organization from the top-down.

It has become quite obvious that an organization needs continuous improvement to better meet customer satisfaction. Therefore, there is a need for a strict and scientific approach using statistical control and an adaptive framework of organizational values and beliefs to keep employees of an organization focused on admitting there are problems that provide an opportunity for change; and to embrace change as part of the underlying idea that what worked last week will always have room for improvement. It is a team based method encouraging employees to use their creativity to help find ways for procedures and systems to be improved.

There are more advantages than disadvantages to this philosophy, let’s take a look at them all:

Advantages of Kaizen:

  • The most valued advantage is that this philosophy focuses primarily on customer satisfaction. There is no room for “somewhat satisfied” customers, either you give them the best product and services or not, period. So every activity in the organization should have this goal in mind: giving the customer what he wants and building a long term relationship with them. So, it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that the product always meets the standards and needs of its consumers.
  • When you listen to an employee’s suggestion for improvement in their area of specialty or work, you will increase their sense of worth and satisfaction, thus encouraging better practices in the processes and systems. Especially when you team up employees, you will allow room to refine their ideas and analyze all aspects of the problem. Workers will definitely become more productive if they are included in the decision making process as they will want to see their ideas being implemented.
  • There is always room for improvement, and a Kaizen driven company surely knows that. By always searching for a lean, tight running business a company will most likely become more and more effective and efficient, thus reducing costs and making it more and more profitable.
  • Companies that follow the Kaizen philosophy are more open and have a friendlier work environment. The whole organization is aware of its problems, and they all work together to solve them. This means that the workplace is generally an open space with a shared canteen and the same dress code for everyone. Only CEOs have closed cabins, which also reduces the outbreak of rumors.
  • A teamwork environment gives each individual a chance to belong to several teams; therefore creating a work atmosphere in which individuals are immersed in corporate life and promoting mutual understanding and support. For example, instead of having a single individual that provides a service, a company can have a backup system of personnel that can take over a person’s responsibility at any given time; if the service is required by a customer, there will always be someone available to deliver it.

    Power in Words_david kiger_kaizen
    Image courtesy of Bryan Crump at Flickr.com
  • Adding to the previous advantage of teamwork, there is also the assumption within Kaizen that no individual or team has all the required skills and knowledge to complete an activity. So it promotes cross-functional teamwork to help get valuable information and help from all the related people of the overall task. Ideas flow freely and as widely as possible.
  • Since Kaizen is so process centered, it reduces wasteful processes and the waste of resources, by helping identify exactly where in the process things are going wrong and why in a timely manner.
  • You can reduce safety and general inspection efforts and accident related injuries that could affect production. If you give room to employees’ ideas to help clean and better control equipment and processes, you will have a detailed plan on how to keep the workplace nice and neat and ensure hassle free production.
  • And lastly, long term and short term goals are well known and identified throughout the organization, making it easier to design ever changing systems to ensure these are always met.
    On the other hand, there are also some
    disadvantages of this philosophy. In the end, it all comes down to which list tempts you the most.

  • It can be very difficult to change an organization’s mindset on how it is run. For Kaizen to work, companies need to create a very open communication practice, which is usually not the case in most companies. There is also the fact that many employees are not willing to let go of their work areas, or do not feel comfortable sharing their ideas in fear of missing opportunities to be promoted. These difficulties could lead to very serious problems for the overall company at the beginning.
  • Since it is such an incredible change from traditional organizational styles, the excitement of the “big” change could die down very rapidly. This could imply that companies may not achieve the results they are expecting at the beginning, hence making people believe this method does not work at all.
  • One of the biggest challenges you will find if you want to implement this method in your company is fighting the idea in people’s mind to reject anything different and foreign.
  • The organization will not see results immediately, and getting people to think in the long run is yet another challenge.
  • People in general have the notion that quality has to be costly, but an organization following Kaizen knows that quality actually saves money, time and effort. However, once again fighting with people’s belief is quite an odyssey.
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