Improving the Understanding of Kaizen:


Kaizen is probably one of the most versatile terms in Lean. I have written several posts on kaizen. In today’s post, I will be looking at improving the understanding of kaizen. In Japanese, the word “kaizen” means to change for the better. Kaizen has come to mean several things – from “continuous improvement” to “kaizen events”. I will be sticking with the idea of change for the better.

From a philosophical standpoint, kaizen can happen two ways;

  • Problem solving kaizen – improvement through solving a problem
  • Kaizen – improvement through making things better

1 – Problem Solving Kaizen:

In the lean world, a problem is always defined as a deviation from the established standard. It is the gap between the current state (what it is now) and the ideal state (what it should be = established standard). As part of solving the problem, you may find a better way to surpass the established standard to a better state. This is shown below:

problemsolving kaizen

If you stop at just reaching the established standard, you may have solved the problem, but you have not made it better. Once you go higher, you have made an improvement.

2 – Kaizen – Making Things Better:

The established standard is never the best state. It is simply the state that was determined to be the acceptable standard. If we are at that level, we can expect to be performing as intended.

Making things better

Improving from the state of current standard is actually a hard task. From a production standpoint, the current state matches the established standard. However, your desired standard is higher than the established standard. This very much depends upon you and this is a hard skill to master. The extent of the kaizen depends upon the gap between the established standard and your desired standard. You can achieve this only through the belief that the current established standard is not acceptable.

This type of kaizen can be achieved by;

  1. Developing an attitude that the established standard is not acceptable.
  2. Going to the Gemba (the actual workplace). Gemba is your teacher.
  3. Understanding the current standard.
  4. Looking for waste and putting countermeasures in place.
  5. Developing others to practice steps 1 through 4.

There are several stories about Taiichi Ohno (the founder of Toyota Production System) drawing a chalk circle on the floor and asking the supervisor to stand in the circle and observe. The supervisor would stand in the circle for hours until Ohno was satisfied that the supervisor is able to see the wastes.

No task is 100% value added and free of waste. In Japanese, the term for waste is “muda”. Muda means “no value” (mu = no, da = value). Thus, muda represents non-value adding tasks. This itself has a deeper meaning. A component that is produced from a CNC machine has value. However, if the component that is produced is not needed right now by the next station, then it does not have any value. Thus, this excess inventory is identified as a form of waste in lean.

Final Words:

I have seen that the best kind of kaizen comes when you are either very lazy or very dissatisfied with something. Both of these paths lead to “there must be a better way of doing this”.

I will finish off with a story about my four year old nephew, Aaron, and how he did some problem solving on his own.

My brother has an Ipad that he allows my nephew to play games on. One day my brother and sister-in-law realized that Aaron had been watching Disney cartoons on the YouTube app. Aaron was three at the time and did not truly know how to spell words. They were surprised that he was able to find the cartoons on his own.

My brother and my sister-in-law could not figure out how Aaron was able to find the Disney cartoons on YouTube since he could not type any words to search. Aaron was not in the mood to explain how he did it either. My brother decided to watch Aaron the next time he was playing on the Ipad. Finally my brother understood what was going on. Aaron was clicking on the microphone button on the keyboard and saying the words aloud. Aaron had figured out that he could use the microphone to search. Aaron had solved the problem all by himself.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Idea of Wa in Nemawashi.

One thought on “Improving the Understanding of Kaizen:

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