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Kaizen and Continuous Improvement

Джеффри Лайкер (Jeffrey K. Liker). Материал предоставлен автором, опубликован у нас 16.07.2012

Об авторе: Джеффри Лайкер - профессор кафедры организации и инженерного обеспечения производства Мичиганского университета, один из создателей и руководитель программ Japan Technology Management Program и Lean Manufacturing and Product Development Certificate Program. Автор многих книг о TPS, в т.ч. "Дао Тойоа" — лауреат четырех премий Синго за выдающиеся достижения (Shingo Prize for Excellence). Его статьи публиковались в The Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review и др. Доктор Лайкер возглавляет Optiprise - консультационную фирму, занимающуюся вопросами организации бережливых предприятий и управления цепочками поставок. Он является редактором книги Becoming Lean: Experiences of U.S. Manufacturer, которая в 1998 г. получила премию Сигео Синго за выдающиеся достижения в исследованиях производства.

Since the 1980s when the “Japanese miracle” of near perfect quality entered global awareness the concept of kaizen has grown to be part of the international vocabulary of management theory.  Kaizen represents a vision of an ideal state—improvement everywhere to achieve lowest cost, highest quality, and best service to the customer.  As organizations throughout the world have experimented with various incarnations of programs to achieve kaizen, e.g., business process reengineering, total quality management, six sigma, lean, theory of constraints, there has been a shift in thinking from viewing kaizen as a toolkit to transform processes, to viewing kaizen as the essence of a culture focused on striving for excellence across the enterprise.  These real world experiments have led to basic insights into a broad range of issues in management theory including the nature of bureaucracy, human motivation, how to train and develop people, the skills and roles of leadership, knowledge management, and the relationship between strategy and operational excellence.

Kaizen means change for the better.  Continuous improvement taken literally means everything is getting better all the time.  Sometimes a distinction is made between kaizen, which is interpreted as small incremental changes, and kaikaku which refers to big change.  This is not necessary since “change for the better” can be big or small.  Henry Ford said “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs,”[1] and if you look closely at big game-changing innovations they have been achieved through many small steps, some dead-ends, and others progress toward the vision.

Kaizen is a Japanese word and often associated with Japanese manufacturing, particularly the Toyota Production System (TPS).  The book that first popularized the core concepts of TPS was The Machine that Changed the World.   This book introduced the phrase “lean production” as a new management paradigm as significant as the shift from craft to mass production.  Lean spread as programs first in industry and then into the service sector and has taken on a life of its own with different interpretations by different authors, consulting groups, and organizations.  One simple classification is into two categories:  tool-oriented lean (mechanistic) and people-oriented lean (organic).  The original TPS in Toyota is the later and the tools and lean processes highlighted problems which could shut down production driving active problem solving.  The role of people was to think creatively about how to solve those problems, but people had to be developed to have the skills for solving the problems, which Toyota invested deeply mostly through on-the-job development with skilled coaches (called sensei). [2] 

As Toyota globalized it became clear that there was a need to take the philosophy underlying TPS and make what Japanese members learned on the job explicit so it could be taught in the hundreds of companies in which Toyota had operations and sales offices.  The resulting document, The Toyota Way 2001, defined two pillars that represent the core philosophy of the company:  respect for people and continuous improvement.[3]  The underlying principles, more general than manufacturing, have become an aspiration for organizations throughout the world in all sectors including industry, government, education, defense, healthcare, mining, and financial services.  A related concept is “lean management” which focuses on eliminating waste from processes.[4]  Unfortunately the concept of lean is often misinterpreted as a program led by experts to reduce cost through waste reduction.  In reality, lean thinking is virtually synonymous with continuous improvement, aka kaizen, which requires engaged people skilled in a discipline problem solving methodology.

The underlying theory of problem solving evolved from Shewhart’s concept, taught to Toyota by W. Edwards Deming, evolved in Japan into what we know call the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.[5]  Too often problems are solved by assuming it is clear what the problem is and jumping to solutions with very little follow up to learn what happened.  Daniel Kahneman calls this “fast thinking,” as opposed to slow thinking which takes much more mental effort.[6] In fast thinking we jump to the first conclusion that comes to mind without thinking deeply or analytically about the problem. As a general principle he summarizes many cognitive psychology experiments with the conclusion that people seek to minimize mental effort, thus preferring fast thinking.  PDCA requires a careful definition of the real problem and then driving to the root cause by deep (slow) thinking and careful study.  Only then are possible countermeasures defined, one selected and tried (Do) and then the results studied (check) with further action (Act) based on the findings.

Mike Rother introduces the concept of kata to emphasize that the process of improvement requires a specific skill set and way of thinking that must be learned.[7]  Kata, a Japanese term often used in martial arts, is a deeply learned routine. He lays out in detail the “improvement kata,” that drives continuous improvement, that is a set of routines that need to be repeatedly practiced, with an expert coach as a guide, until they become second nature and the focus can be on the content of the problem instead of the process steps of problem solving.  In essence one must work hard, practice in a determined way, and it helps to have a coach for support and motivation, in order to overcome the tendency toward fast thinking.

Routines bring to mind standardization which is often thought to stifle creativity.  But Adler, studying the Toyota Production System at NUMMI, the joint venture between Toyota and General Motors in California, observed an organization filled with bureaucratic standards that were being dynamically adjusted by work teams through kaizen.[8] This caused him to question the very nature of bureaucracy, and the simple distinction in organizational theory between mechanistic and organic organizations.[9] He concluded there were different types of bureaucracies.  He distinguished between “coercive bureaucracy” in which standards are developed by experts and imposed top down through a command and control structure and “enabling bureaucracy” in which standards are best practice templates owned and improved upon by work groups throughout the organization.  Enabling bureaucracy actually encourages In fact, without standardization individuals learn and may improve what they do, but the improvements are not shared and institutionalized so organizational learning is not possible.[10]

Let’s consider two cases that tried to develop continuous improvement cultures, one through coercive bureaucracy and the other through enabling bureaucracy. [11]  A U.S. shipyard that repairs and overhauls submarines and aircraft carriers embarked on a program they taught by establishing a “lean six-sigma” academy.  Graduates earned “black belts” and were sent into the shipyard to do projects.  While each project showed improvements to the bottom line there was little change in the culture of the shipyards, little buy-in from people doing the work, and the well-documented changes were only superficially implemented generally degrading over time—the opposite of continuous improvement.  In fact the approach to change reflected the coercive bureaucracy that was at the core of the shipyard, rather than changing the culture.  A smaller shipyard that had a more team-centered enabling culture started with deep changes in pilot areas intensively coaching teams in those areas until they were capable of kaizen, then spread the learning work group by work group slowly and patiently and had far more sustainable results with evidence of a good deal of learning.  This eventually spread across the yard and change was deep.  The irony is that over time, due to lack of consistent leadership (leaders were frequently rotated), neither program was able to sustain the journey to continuous improvement.

This case study illustrates two key points.  First, it is far too easy to confuse continuous improvement with a toolkit that can be mechanistically applied to processes that are presumed to be static.  In fact, processes are dynamic and naturally variable and require continuous improvement even to maintain a steady state and even more effort to improve in an innovative way. Second, continuous improvement is 100 percent dependent on people, and people will not push themselves to keep improving without strong leadership coaching and support.  The leaders themselves need to be the first to transform themselves to become skilled at kaizen so they can then teach others.[12]  Like any life pursuit, such as sports, art, music, cooking, continuous improvement requires a drive for excellence and continuous practice and the ideal is always just out of reach.

See Also:

Lean Enterprise

Learning Organization

High Performance Work Systems

Level-5 Leadership

Organic and Mechanistic Forms

Quality Circles

Socio-Technical Theory

Total Quality Management

[1] Henry Ford, Today and Tomorrow, N.Y.: Productivity Press, 1988.

[2] Jeffrey K. Liker, The Toyota Way, N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 2004

[3] The Toyota Way 2001, Tokyo:  internal Toyota Motor Corporation document, 2001.

[4]  James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, Lean Thinking, Cambridge: Free Press, 2003.

[5]  W. Edwards Deming, Out of the Crisis, Cambridge:  MIT Press, 2000.

[6] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, N.Y.: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

[7] Mike Rother, Toyota Kata, N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 2009.

[8] Paul S. Adler and Bryan Borys, “Two Types of Bureaucracy:  Enabling and Coercive,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 41:1, pp. 61-89, 1996.

[9] Tom Burns and G.M. Stalker, The Management of Innovation, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1994.

[10]  Robert E. Cole, “Reflections on Organizational Learning in U.S. and Japanese Industry,” pp. 365-379 in J. K. Liker, J. E. Ettlie, and J.C. Campbell, Engineered in Japan, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1995.

[11] Jeffrey Liker and James Franz, The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement, N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 2011 (see chapter 6). 

[12] Jeffrey K. Liker and Gary L. Convis, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, N.Y.: McGraw Hill, 2011.


В августе 2007 года в издательстве "Юджин Проджектс" вышла первая в России книга по практике управления развитием  "Импрувмент: управление изменениями, нацеленное на развитие". Книга вышла в серии "Читайте на работе" .

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