Kai­zen and its impact on the com­pe­ti­ti­ve­ness of manu­fac­tu­ring companies

Kai­zen is a method from inno­va­ti­on manage­ment and descri­bes methods and tools for desig­ning impro­ve­ments in (pro­duc­tion) pro­ces­ses. In Ger­man usa­ge, the term “con­ti­nuous impro­ve­ment pro­cess” (CIP) has also beco­me estab­lished. This is syn­ony­mous with Kai­zen. Kai­zen comes from the Japa­ne­se and was alre­a­dy descri­bed in 1986 by Masaa­ki Imai in his book “Kai­zen: The Key to Japa­ne­se Com­pe­ti­ti­ve Suc­cess”. Ther­eby the word stands for:


Japa­ne­se for “chan­ge”


Japa­ne­se for “impro­ve”

CIP, or Kai­zen, ori­gi­nal­ly comes from series pro­duc­tion and has its roots in the manu­fac­tu­re of auto­mo­bi­les. Even today, the auto­mo­ti­ve indus­try is a pio­neer and has its own stan­dards, such as IATF16969. In the mean­ti­me, howe­ver, Kai­zen has also arri­ved in other indus­tries and even extends to the ser­vice indus­try or to admi­nis­tra­ti­ve processes.

Kai­zen has a posi­ti­ve impact on the com­pe­ti­ti­ve­ness of manu­fac­tu­ring com­pa­nies and is con­side­red an important pil­lar to ensu­re this. Through many small chan­ges, a suc­ces­si­ve, never-ending impro­ve­ment of indi­vi­du­al pro­ces­ses, tools, equip­ment, mate­ri­als and much more takes place. As a result, the com­pa­ny is con­stant­ly evol­ving, can redu­ce its manu­fac­tu­ring cos­ts, increase pro­duct qua­li­ty, pro­mo­te employee moti­va­ti­on and, ulti­m­ate­ly, keep incre­asing cus­to­mer enthu­si­asm. In this blog post, we would like to show you the core ele­ments and methods of Kai­zen and how digi­tal tools can sim­pli­fy your con­ti­nuous impro­ve­ment process.

Gui­ding prin­ci­ples of Kaizen

Kai­zen is built on cer­tain gui­ding prin­ci­ples that descri­be the goals of the con­ti­nuous impro­ve­ment process:

Dabei geht es im Kai­zen nicht um sprung­haf­te Pro­zess­ver­bes­se­run­gen, son­dern eher um klein­tei­li­ge, schritt­wei­se Opti­mie­rung und Per­fek­tio­nie­rung von Pro­zes­sen, Metho­den oder Pro­duk­ten. Es steht auch nicht nur der finan­zi­el­le Aspekt von Ver­bes­se­run­gen im Fokus, son­dern auch die Stei­ge­rung der Qua­li­tät von Pro­duk­ten und Prozessen.

The PDCA cycle as a core ele­ment of Kaizen

The PDCA cycle, also known as the Deming cycle, sounds very tech­ni­cal at first. Basi­cal­ly, an impro­ve­ment (if suc­cessful­ly imple­men­ted) always con­sists of four steps, which are struc­tu­red as a con­trol loop.

  1. PLAN: Ana­ly­sis of the cau­ses of a cur­rent pro­blem, if pos­si­ble on real, mea­sura­ble data and with the invol­vement of the employees in the pro­cess. Plan­ning of fea­si­ble and accept­ed mea­su­res to achie­ve a defi­ned tar­get state.
  2. DO: During this pha­se, the plan­ned mea­su­res are imple­men­ted and docu­men­ted by the employees of the affec­ted areas.
  3. Check: Mea­su­re­ment of tar­get achie­ve­ment by means of a target/actual comparison.
  4. Act: In the posi­ti­ve case, the impro­ve­ments are stan­dar­di­zed, descri­bed and lived in the future. In the nega­ti­ve case, the imple­men­ted mea­su­re forms the start­ing point for going through the cycle again.
Plan - Do - Check - Act Zyklus

The five cen­tral pil­lars of Kaizen

Kai­zen is based on five cen­tral pillars:

  1. Pro­cess focus: Kai­zen focu­ses on the pro­cess and tri­es to docu­ment it exact­ly and to impro­ve it con­ti­nuous­ly. The indi­vi­du­al pro­ces­ses are never “finis­hed” but are con­stant­ly optimized.
  2. Cus­to­mer focus: The cus­to­mer is king. This can be an inter­nal cus­to­mer (e.g., an employee), but also an exter­nal cus­to­mer. The joint, cross-func­tion­al solu­ti­on of chal­lenges ensu­res that indi­vi­du­al employees have a deep under­stan­ding of the needs and requi­re­ments of inter­nal and exter­nal customers.
  3. Qua­li­ty focus: Kai­zen requi­res per­ma­nent mea­su­re­ment of key figu­res in order to iden­ti­fy pro­blems and opti­miza­ti­on potential.
  4. Cri­ti­cism is wel­co­me: Cri­ti­cism is express­ly desi­red in Kai­zen and CIP. Every employee must be encou­ra­ged to make sug­ges­ti­ons for impro­ve­ment and should also be invol­ved in the imple­men­ta­ti­on. In this way, a direct effect of the pro­cess impro­ve­ment is also noti­ceable for the employees involved.
  5. Stan­dar­diza­ti­on: When an impro­ve­ment has been suc­cessful­ly imple­men­ted, it is inte­gra­ted and docu­men­ted as a new stan­dard in all appro­pria­te processes.

The ide­al in Kai­zen is to pro­mo­te acti­ve, qua­li­fied, self-reli­ant and crea­ti­ve employees.  In the best case, this is done in com­bi­na­ti­ons with a sys­tem for employee moti­va­ti­on and employee par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in the suc­cess of pro­cess improvements.

Kai­zen methods

In ever­y­day work, a varie­ty of methods and tools have emer­ged that can be used for Kaizen:

  • 3‑Mu: This is actual­ly a coll­ec­tion of methods and is used to avo­id was­te (Muda = Japa­ne­se for “was­te”), avo­id over­load (Muri = Japa­ne­se for over­load), and avo­id devia­ti­on (Mura = Japa­ne­se for overload).
  • 5S: Method for desig­ning work envi­ron­ments. The 5 “S” stand for sel­ect, sys­te­ma­ti­ze, clean, stan­dar­di­ze and self-disci­pli­ne. You can learn more about it here.
  • TQM: Total Qua­li­ty Manage­ment refers to the con­ti­nuous recor­ding, sif­ting, orga­ni­zing and con­trol­ling acti­vi­ties in qua­li­ty management.
  • 6‑W Check­list: Ques­ti­ons from four cate­go­ries are asked here, which ser­ve to ana­ly­ze pro­ces­ses and acti­vi­ties. The basic six ques­ti­on words to ans­wer are who, what, whe­re, when, why, and how about a task. Examples:
    • “Who does it?”
    • “What is to be done?”
    • “Whe­re is it to be done?”
    • “When will it be done?”
    • “Why is it to be done?”
    • “How is it to be done?”
  • Ishi­ka­wa dia­gram: The so-cal­led fish­bo­ne dia­gram is used to illus­tra­te cau­se-effect rela­ti­onships and visual­ly show sources of error.
  • 5‑Why-Ques­ti­ons: By ques­tio­ning the cau­se of errors five times, the com­ple­te chain of effects of the error is examined.
  • The­re are many other methods that are sui­ta­ble for Kai­zen and can be used in practice

How do digi­tal tools help you imple­ment kaizen?

In all methods, mea­su­ra­bi­li­ty of pro­cess varia­bles plays a major role. Wit­hout this actu­al recor­ding, pro­blems can­not be iden­ti­fied and proac­tively addres­sed. The sen­sor in the con­trol loop is sim­ply miss­ing. This sen­sor can be crea­ted by digi­tal tools. By recor­ding actu­al cycle times, dura­ti­on of indi­vi­du­al work steps, error reac­tion times, reasons for errors and many other data, a data coll­ec­tion can be built up through which a wide ran­ge of pro­blems can be iden­ti­fied. This data­ba­se is also requi­red in the PDAC “Check” cycle in order to vali­da­te suc­ces­ses with mea­sura­ble data.

Worker assis­tance sys­tems that divi­de a work step into small work steps and pro­vi­de the worker with cor­re­spon­ding ins­truc­tions are par­ti­cu­lar­ly useful for impro­ving assem­bly pro­ces­ses. The­se can be stan­dar­di­zed and the indi­vi­du­al times or error mes­sa­ges of the­se work steps can be eva­lua­ted and opti­mi­zed. This results in a com­pre­hen­si­ve data­ba­se and pro­cess impro­ve­ments can be deli­ver­ed as new work steps any­whe­re quick­ly and easi­ly at the push of a but­ton. This also enables fast A/B tests of new work steps and valid mea­su­re­ment of the results achieved.


Curious now? Cont­act us, we will be hap­py to advi­se you!