Jan 18, 2006

True kaizen

I recently read Yogesh Vaghani’s article on Milton Plastics, in AME’s Target magazine, about the company’s kaizen initiative.

I stopped dead in my mental tracks when I encountered his definition of kaizen: “Continual and systematic training of the mind leading to continuous improvement in performance.”

There were four words I’ve never seen in the definition – “training of the mind”! It was a “this changes everything” moment – an aha!

“What’s the big deal?” you might ask. “Everyone knows lean is about people.”

The common definition of kaizen is probably similar to what is found in the “Lean Lexicon” from the Lean Enterprise Institute: “Continuous improvement of an entire value stream or an individual process to create more value with less waste.” That certainly states well what we want to see wherever kaizen is being practiced.

Masaaki Imai, one of the kings of kaizen, moves closer to Vaghani’s definition when he opens his book, “Kaizen,” by calling it “ongoing improvement involving everyone -- top management, managers and workers.” He goes on to say kaizen in Japan takes the form of a “process-oriented way of thinking versus the West’s innovation- and results-oriented thinking.” He says it is so “deeply ingrained in the minds of both managers and workers that they often do not even realize that they are thinking ‘kaizen.’”

Indeed, it seems to fall into the category of the unspoken obvious, the tacit or profound knowledge that people walk around with when lean becomes part of their work.

But I keep coming back to those words, “training of the mind.” Not to get too far into linguistics, semantics, semiotics or neurology, but encountering a word makes a dent in the brain. It sets off a cascade of associations, memories, feelings, and ideas. Vaghani’s definition places the emphasis on training. And training what? The mind. Once that is done, improvement follows.

It’s why people say Toyota produces people, not just automobiles. Training of minds so that they think kaizen whatever they are doing. It may be why people say that implementing the Toyota Production System is easy to talk about but hard to do.

Those four words are now permanently part of my definition: Training the mind. Learning more about the system you work in. Learning from others. Thanks, Yogesh, for adding your insight to our thinking.


Liza Mellin said...

The kaizen movement is a work philosophy that not only it pushes the company itself forward, but it also promotes growth to each personnel, in which they can apply to their own life. Also, the strongest point in this philosophy is the fact that everyone maintains their perfect harmony (Kanzen Chouwa), which also lessens wasteful effort.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment, Liza. It's always worth reminding ourselves that harmony is worth seeking.

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