The Skepticism of Kaizen

Kaizen continues to gain momentum as an exceptional tool for continuous improvement within many different employment sectors such as manufacturing, healthcare, business management, etc. However, despite a positive track record the Japanese derived term “Kaizen” still comes under harsh criticism from many employees and managers alike. Many people just don’t believe such radical changes can be made in such short amounts of time, with many Kaizen events creating substantial improvements within just a week’s time. Art Byrne is a legendary lean practitioner and Industry Week states:

Based on his experience, Byrne has found that a one-week kaizen event can — and often does — produce a 90% reduction in changeover time for many types of equipment. Tell that to a manufacturing manager or engineer, however, “and they’d say, ‘There’s no way. There’s no how. It’s not possible.”

Why are managers and employees so resistant towards accepting the quick levels of success associated with Kaizen? Is it because they think the numbers and results are skewed? Or are they possibly just “afraid” of change and the possibility of messing up an already functional process? Whatever the reason may be, it is time to explore the possible benefits of Kaizen and how they can positively affect your current business processes. Consider this example from Industry Week provided by Art Byrne:

To underscore his point, Byrne offers this hypothetical: Two factories use the same injection-molding machines. Through kaizen events, Factory A has reduced its changeover times down to two minutes. Meanwhile, Factory B’s changeover times are two and a half hours and have been for years.

The manager of Factory B visits Factory A to learn how Factory A is able to change its injection-molding machines in two minutes. Flush with excitement, the manager of Factory B then returns to his home plant to share the story with his team members, in hopes of achieving similar results.

What typically happens next?

One, [the workers] don’t believe it, and two, they can’t possibly see how they could do it, so they’re going to ignore you,” Byrne explains. “And unless you want to lead them and show them and help them, nothing will occur.”

This type of situation can be very frustrating especially when the manager is a believer in the possible improvements, and the employees don’t share the same motivation and vision. Since Kaizen emphasizes the need for teamwork and total participation to achieve success, it would be smart for the manager to first meet with the employees to discuss what he has seen at the other factory and to discuss what processes seemed to work for them. Then once information has been shared, the employees and manager can start the process of brainstorming possible process changes that would make sense and eliminate wasted time for them. It is important to remember that even though two companies may produce or manufacture the same thing, the processes may be slightly different for each. So what works for one business may not work as well for another.

Striving for continuous improvement can bring enhanced levels of success and efficiency within a business, and implementing certain tactics such as Kaizen may help take your company from good to best.

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