Kaizen is a Japanese term for “improvement” or “change for the better”, a concept that has been adopted as a way to approach manufacturing, production, engineering, management and the support of business processes. Industries like banking, life coaching, government, healthcare and psychotherapy amongst others, have implement kaizen in different ways in order to improve upon the practices. When used in business and applied to the workplace, it refers to activities that gradually improve all functions and involves everyone who is part of the company, from the assembly line workers all the way up to the CEO. Kaizen also applies to processes like purchasing, logistics and even links of the supply chain by attempting to eliminate “waste” by means of standardizing activities and improving upon evaluating current practices. Numerous companies have used the streamlined and simplistic approach of kaizen in one way or another. The implementation of PLAN, DO, CHECK and ACT (PDCA) has proven to be successful when aiding companies to improve upon their processes and activities and there are multiple real-life current examples of that. Much can be learned from kaizen implementation looking at companies that we consider successful and that have made it known that they have adopted kaizen principles.
Toyota Motor Corporation is a Japanese automotive manufacturer with main headquarters in Toyota, Aichi, Japan. Kiichiro Toyoda founded the company in 1937 and today is considered the 13th largest company in the world by revenue. Kaizen and Toyota are names that go together since the ideologies of constant improvement are deeply ingrained into the fabric that makes up Toyota’s principles and more specifically The Toyota Way, a set of doctrines and behaviors that underlie the Toyota Motor Corporation’s managerial approach and production system.
The ideology of kaizen is an essential part of Toyota and the Toyota Production System since kaizen in itself means no process is perfect and understands that there is always room for improvement, a thought that resonates within Toyota and the way they operate at all levels. Members of the company are aware of their role within kaizen guidelines and the responsibility each one of them has of discovering new ways of improving operation performance. The positive attitude required by kaizen principles helps team members of the organization to focus on what should be done rather than what can be done. Toyota’s employees receive incentives for finding inefficient practices and designing ways to improve them and the effective application of the PDCA cycle helps support quick-decision making in many aspects of organizational tasking.
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company with worldwide interests. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington, DC area. Lockheed Martin employs 116,000 people worldwide. Marillyn Hewson is the current President and Chief Executive Officer. The company is also known as a proponent of Kaizen. Most likely, no one associates lean manufacturing with building military aircraft. However, Lockheed Martin was selected as one Industry Week’s “Top 10 Plants” in 1998. Improvements from 1992 through 1997 included a 38 percent reduction in manufacturing costs, despite volume reductions; 50 percent inventory reduction; a defect rate of 3.4 defects per plane; and reduction in order to delivery time from 42 months to 21.5 months. Through the application of kaizen methodologies to further implement lean manufacturing, the plant was awarded the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing in 2000. During this period, a kaizen project in material management reduced the time to move parts from receiving to stock from 30 days to four hours.
In 2010, while developing its Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) system, Lockheed Martin held multiple Kaizen events at plants in Florida and Alabama to help improve the way that the JAGM is manufactured.
Nestlé S.A. is a Swiss transnational food and beverage company headquartered in Vevey, Vaud, Switzerland. It is the largest food company in the world measured by revenues, and ranked #72 on the Fortune Global 500 in 2014. Its products include baby food, medical food, bottled water, breakfast cereals, coffee and tea, confectionery, dairy products, ice cream, frozen food, pet foods, and snacks. As lean production is paramount in Nestle’s constant mission of reducing waste in all manners, so is kaizen as a support of the idea of continuous improvement. Kaizen as a concept in Nestle makes sure that improvement is the responsibility of everyone involved. The improvement of efficiency becomes a constant process since kaizen implies that even the smallest improvements should be made as they can eventually lead to big savings. For example: Nestlé Waters uses various techniques to see where the current factory could be made more efficient, techniques such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) that illustrates the flow of materials and information required to bring the finished product to the consumer. A process like this helps plant new bottling plants to ensure that their processes are as efficient as possible.