No Lean Without Kaizen

Can Lean management – the learning management system, the thinking management system – exist in organizations that do not do kaizen?

In the old days, kaizen made use of Lean tools to achieve improvements. In recent years, more and more organizations use Lean tools separate from kaizen in an attempt to make improvements or to justify the need to do kaizen. Something happened around the 1997-1999 time period that led to this critical process change in how kaizen is performed.

kaizenThe image illustrates the change that has occurred. Kaizen is the process that utilizes Lean tools (left side, correct), while Lean tools are being used outside of the kaizen process (right side, incorrect). Using Lean tools outside of kaizen presents four problems:

  1. Improvements will be small compared to what they could be, resulting in a much slower Lean transformation.
  2. It turns kaizen into an infrequent “event.”
  3. People will not learn kaizen and therefore fail to develop and improve their personal and organizational capabilities.
  4. Big problems linger uncorrected.

Fundamentally, you don’t need Lean tools to tell you where or when to do kaizen. That’s not their purpose. Instead, you only need problems, of which there are many.

Recall that when former Toyota-trained engineers first started teaching Toyota’s production system in the U.S. in 1988, the focus was on the system and kaizen as the process for making improvements. The books, Kaizen Forever, Shingijutsu-Kaizen, and  Toyota Kaizen Methods, by Isao Kato and Art Smalley, follow in that tradition and informs readers on how to correctly practice kaizen. This and other resources can help you return to the pre-1997 way of understanding and doing kaizen.

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