The Order for Kaizen:

kaizen order

In today’s post, I will be talking about Kaizen and specifically the order for kaizen. Kaizen has come to mean “continuous improvement” today. Kaizen originally translates from Japanese as “change for better”. I will be presenting three different views on approaching kaizen. These are;

  • Taiichi Ohno’s view,
  • Shigeo Shingo’s view, and
  • Hiroyuki Hirano’s view

Taiichi Ohno’s View (Semi-Strategic in nature):

Taiichi Ohno is the father of Toyota Production System (TPS). He has stated that there is a proper order for kaizen. These are;

  • Sagyo kaizen (Operations improvement),
  • Setsubi kaizen (Equipment improvement), and
  • Kotei kaizen (Process improvement)

I believe that Ohno wanted to focus on developing the abilities of people first since this is the lowest level where kaizen is possible. As Hirano says, “The starting point of manufacturing is always people.” Any production system should be people oriented. The first step of all kaizen is to raise the awareness of the people. This allows them to view the waste as a lean leader would. This is achieved only through operations kaizen. The operators involved are finding ways to make their work easier with what they have. This has minimal cost impact of all the kaizen. Ohno has also said;

“People with no capacity for improving operations are a problem because they like to buy new machines all the time.”

Ohno has also said;

“First improve operations. If you start out by bringing in the latest machines people with no capacity for improvement simply end up being slaves to the machines.”

The next in line is Equipment kaizen. Ohno challenges us to find new and creative ways of using the current equipment. Ohno advises us;

“You must have the ability to tinker with and improve the machines you already have.”

Ohno recommends buying new equipment when you have made the maximum use of current equipment and when it is no longer possible to increase effectiveness without new equipment. Purchasing new equipment should result in an improvement of quality. Ohno cautions against purchasing costly specialized equipment and advises going for flexible and low cost equipment. Equipment kaizen alone without operation kaizen results in extreme waste. Now the organization can make waste much better, and lot more of it. Machines cannot see waste, and machines cannot improve anything on their own. Machine kaizen alone foster status quo and invites complacency.

The last in line is Process Kaizen. His view was;

“Making things extremely well by turning the process upside down is Process Improvement.”

With process kaizen, you are looking at rearranging equipment or operations, changing layout, or improving the flow by linking processes.

Shigeo Shingo’s View (Tactical in nature):

Shigeo Shingo has provided us four targets for improvement. They are, in the order of priority;

  • Easier,
  • Better,
  • Faster, and
  • Cheaper

I was watching a Paul Akers (FastCap) video on YouTube and I made a connection to what Shingo said. “Easier” is an improvement from the point of the operator. This also means that it is safer for the operator to do. Any improvement activity should be first focused on Safety. “Better” is an improvement activity resulting in an improvement in quality of the operation/product. “Faster” is an improvement activity that increases efficiency. The final level is “cheaper”, and this should be the last target of all improvement activities. The goal of kaizen is not necessarily to first make the process cheaper.

Hiroyuki Hirano’s view (Strategic in Nature):

Hirano has pointed out the following as the normal progression of kaizen;

  • Point kaizen,
  • Line kaizen,
  • Plane kaizen, and
  • Cubic kaizen

“Point kaizen” is very similar to the operations improvement. This is the basic small improvement activity at the operations level. The next level is “line kaizen”. This is where a lot of the point kaizens merge together to result in flow manufacturing, as in an assembly line. Hirano calls this a vertical development. This is akin to selecting a model line and transforming it to make the process flow better. Once we have line kaizen, the next progression is through “plane kaizen”. This is the idea of “yokoten” or horizontal deployment. This is where the ideas and learning from the model line is used to create more model lines across the plant.  Thus this results in horizontal development. The final level is “cubic kaizen” where the development is made across multiple departments and even the supply chain of the enterprise.

My thoughts:

As with any other buzzword, kaizen has come to mean many things. My goal has been to provide a little more structure to the wonderful idea of kaizen. I would encourage the reader to also read my previous post on this topic here (A brief look at kaizen in the light of the Toyota Way). I will finish this off with a great story on Equipment kaizen from Hitoshi Yamada, a student of Ohno from the book Forging a Kaizen Culture (Japanese version 2009):

Yamada was at a large component manufacturer, Stanley Electric’s Tsuruoka plant. They were looking at a machine that assembled extremely small light bulbs. The cost of the machine was $150,000. The machine had two turn tables, and several robot arms. Due to the high cost of the machine, the factory manager felt that he should rely on mass production to make the maximum use of the machine.

Yamada told the manager to study the machine and find areas of wasted movement. And even better- to build a smaller and better machine.

This improvement activity took several weeks of trial and error. The final machine was $5,000 and 1/27th the size of the old machine. Since the machine was much smaller in size, it was also more efficient.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Ohno and the Gemba Walk.

6 thoughts on “The Order for Kaizen:

  1. Great post, with three of my most favorite authors!
    Question to wonder about (I do…): can’t (shouldn’t?) you do all of them in parallel? As the last few years I have been working often on JIT, I have often seen that at these process improvements are not identified by individual teams working in one stage of the overall value stream. Or would you personally refer to operations improvement as kaizen and process improvement as kaikaku?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Rob,
      Thank you.

      My thinking is that operations kaizen is must and that everything else is built on that. My understanding is that kaikaku is a really big change like technological advance. Process improvement (kotei kaizen) can be kaikaku but may not always be.


      • Another thing I see is that we often call something improvement although it isn’t. In quality theory, eliminating assignable causes is not considered improvement but stabilization. Would you consider stabilization as kaizen? Or do you need more than stabilization to call it kaizen?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hello Rob,
        That is a great point. It makes it more interesting when QC Circles also practice kaizen. Stabilization is the precursor to kaizen.

        Thank you for that brilliant point.


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