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Promoting Kaizen Team Evolution

written by: Jayant R Row • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 6/17/2013

The Japanese word for improvement is Kaizen, and it refers to the practice of instituting a continuous improvement in any process whether it is in business, management, manufacturing or even engineering. How does Kaizen team evolution affect these goals?

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    Always Looking For Improvement

    growing graph Kaizen applies to almost any process that involves functions that are amenable to improvement. This makes it a universally applicable philosophy. Its history goes back to the days after World War II when Japan was struggling to reestablish its manufacturing capacities.

    Kaizen activities require that an operation be standardized and the parameters in terms of time and inventory be clearly defined. The parameters are then measured against the requirements and innovations that are made so that productivity is increased.

    This can be done by reducing cycle time, controlling inventory or using any other method to meet the requirements. These innovations themselves become standardized and the processes implemented. This cycle of innovations continues as long as the operations are part of the cycle of manufacture or business. This constant cycling requires the involvement of all the participants in the process with uninterrupted communication between them as well as a desire to make and accept changes. This requires teamwork, personal discipline, high morale and quality awareness. Promoting Kaizen team evolution thus becomes paramount.

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    The Importance of Team Building

    Team building is the main ingredient of a successful Kaizen event. This can precede the Kaizen itself and needs to be given a lot of importance. So how does one help in Kaizen team evolution? For this, one must understand the various phases that a team has to go through that will enable it to suggest Kaizen events that will be self sustaining.

    The first step, of course, is to form a team. For this, a facilitator has to pick a small group of people from within those involved in the process being studied. The big question is whether the facilitator can function as a team leader for the brainstorming sessions that will follow. Otherwise, a team leader has to be appointed.

    Once this brainstorming is done, ideas are firmed up and the team then moves to the performing stage. This is when they prepare an action list and communicate its points, along with their reasons for identifying these issues, to the stakeholders involved in the process. Communication is very important at this stage. Once the benefits are realized the team continually repeats the process to look for further scope for improvement.

    One of the most important things for every member of a Kaizen team is to realize that they are working for a common good and there is no place for any personal egos. You've heard that there is no "i" in team, and managers that are aware of the benefits of Kaizen processes will also strive to involve all members of a particular process in the Kaizen event. This can be done by rotating the people involved in the forming, storming, setting of new norms and final performance. This encourages total involvement plus the constant inflow of ideas from new minds. Once such total involvement is guaranteed, there is almost no process that cannot be improved. This is, after all, the objective of the whole exercise.

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