Fundamentals of Kaizen
Kaizen recognizes the connection between outcomes and processes. If the results from an organization are of poor quality, the processes used to achieve those results require attention. This understanding is part of the fabric of Japanese society, even on the personal level, and explains why Kaizen is so successful there.
The manner in which processes are addressed is a key element of Kaizen. While in the West, innovation (radical change) is often sought, Kaizen seeks constant incremental change, which produces tremendous results over time. Because the changes in Kaizen are small, mistakes can easily be corrected without involving much risk or expense. This tends to make Kaizen processes less wasteful than innovation, where failure can result in tremendous loss.
Central to the philosophy of Kaizen are two cycles that involve processes for improvement and for maintenance: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) and Standardize-Do-Check-Act (SDCA). When improving processes, "Planning" establishes the targets for improvement. The "Do" step refers to the implementation of the plan. The implementation is monitored and evaluated during the "Check" phase, and the process is incorporated as a standard during the "Act" part of the cycle.
The Maintenance cycle, SDCA is invoked when a failure occurs. "Standardization" seeks to stabilize processes so they can be improved. By understanding if a failure occurred because of a poor or non-existent standard or because an existing standard wasn't followed, managers can implement specific actions to correct it. Once a standard is put into place and put into practice, it can become the focus of the PDCA cycle.
The PDCA and SDCA cycles of Kaizen never end, propelling the organization slowly but surely to high efficiency and high quality outputs.