Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management / Edition 1

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When it comes to making your business more profitable and successful, don't look to re-engineering for answers. A better way is to apply the concept of kaizen, which mean making simple, common-sense improvements and refinements to critical business processes.The result: greater productivity, quality, and profits achieved with minimal cost, time, and effort invested. In this book, you discover how to maximize the results of kaizen by applying it to gemba--business processes involved in the manufacture of products and the rendering of services--the areas of your business where, as the author puts it, the "real action" takes place.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Rarely can an author take credit for changing the way business works, but Imai did just that in 1986, in his native Japan, when he wrote Kaizen Japanese for "continuous, incremental improvement". As a result of that book, thousands of businesses made incremental improvement a daily goal. Here, in this straightforward sequel, Imai shows exactly how kaizen should be implemented. The starting point, he argues, is at the gemba "the place where the real work is done". The gemba could be the assembly line in a manufacturing plant, or, at a service company, where employees interact with customers. Wherever it is, though, it is definitely not behind a manager's desk. Imai identifies the three major steps in implementing kaizen at the gemba: pay attention to housekeeping keeping only your necessary tools nearby; eliminate waste everything from overproduction to defective quality; and standardize make sure the improvements in the first two steps are carried on indefinitely. The roles for line workers, managers and chief executives are also detailed here, as are numerous case studies that help bring this thought-provoking book to life.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Rarely can an author take credit for changing the way business works, but Imai did just that in 1986, in his native Japan, when he wrote Kaizen (Japanese for "continuous, incremental improvement"). As a result of that book, thousands of businesses made incremental improvement a daily goal. Here, in this straightforward sequel, Imai shows exactly how kaizen should be implemented. The starting point, he argues, is at the gemba ("the place where the real work is done"). The gemba could be the assembly line in a manufacturing plant, or, at a service company, where employees interact with customers. Wherever it is, though, it is definitely not behind a manager's desk. Imai identifies the three major steps in implementing kaizen at the gemba: pay attention to housekeeping (keeping only your necessary tools nearby); eliminate waste (everything from overproduction to defective quality); and standardize (make sure the improvements in the first two steps are carried on indefinitely). The roles for line workers, managers and chief executives are also detailed here, as are numerous case studies that help bring this thought-provoking book to life. (May)
Library Journal
In this sequel to his popular business/quality management book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success (1986), Imai offers a step forwardcontinuous improvement (kaizen) applied to the concept of continuous improvement in the workplace (gemba). The book reflects a definite operations bias. Indeed, Imai advocates the removal of all those peripheral things (muda) that cloud the focus of an organization. Some of the principles, such as the need for good housekeeping, seem simplistic, but Imai is on solid ground, demonstrating the practicality of gemba kaizen with a number of abbreviated case studies. The one weakness is the lack of adequate recognition of precedent setters: F.W. Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management (1912) and the work of W.A. Shewhart, W.E. Deming, J. Juran, etc. All in all, essential for business collections.Steven Silkunas, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780070314467
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 3/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 9.28 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

McGraw-Hill authors represent the leading experts in their fields and are dedicated to improving the lives, careers, and interests of readers worldwide
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A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management
By Masaaki Imai


Copyright © 1997 Kaizen Institute, Ltd.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-136816-2

Chapter One


Since 1986, when the book Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success was published, the term kaizen has come to be accepted as one of the key concepts of management.

The 1993 edition of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary contained the word kaizen. (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines kaizen as continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc., as a business philosophy.) Thus kaizen has finally gained recognition in the English vocabulary. Readers who are unfamiliar with kaizen may find it helpful to begin with a brief summary of the concepts of kaizen. For those who are already familiar with kaizen, this chapter may serve as a review.

In Japanese, kaizen means continuous improvement. The word implies improvement that involves everyone—both managers and workers—and entails relatively little expense. The kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of life—be it our working life, our social life, or our home life—should focus on constantimprovement efforts. This concept is so natural and obvious to many Japanese that they don't even realize they possess it! In my opinion, kaizen has contributed greatly to Japan's competitive success.

Although improvements under kaizen are small and incremental, the kaizen process brings about dramatic results over time. The kaizen concept explains why companies cannot remain static for long in Japan. Western management, meanwhile, worships innovation: major changes in the wake of technological breakthroughs; the latest management concepts or production techniques. Innovation is dramatic, a real attention getter. Kaizen, on the other hand, is often undramatic and subtle. But innovation is one-shot, and its results are often problematic, while the kaizen process, based on common sense and low-cost approaches, assures incremental progress that pays off in the long run. Kaizen is also a low-risk approach. Managers can always go back to the old way without incurring large costs.

Most "uniquely Japanese" management practices, such as total quality control or companywide quality control, quality circles, and our style of labor relations, can be reduced to one word: kaizen. Using the term kaizen in place of such buzzwords as productivity, total quality control (TQC), zero defects (ZD), just-in-time (JIT), and the suggestion system paints a clearer picture of what has been going on in Japanese industry. Kaizen is an umbrella concept for all these practices. However, I hasten to add that these practices are not necessarily confined to Japanese management, but should rather be regarded as sound principles to be applied by managers everywhere. By following the right steps and applying the processes properly, any company, no matter what its nationality, should be able to benefit from kaizen.


Management must learn to implement certain basic concepts and systems in order to realize kaizen strategy:

• Kaizen and management

• Process versus result

• Following the PDCA/SDCA cycles

• Putting quality first

• Speak with data

• The next process is the customer

By way of introduction, top management must put forth a very careful and very clear policy statement. It must then establish an implementation schedule and demonstrate leadership by practicing a kaizen procedure within its own ranks.

Kaizen and Management

In the context of kaizen, management has two major functions: maintenance and improvement. (See Figure 1-1.) Maintenance refers to activities directed toward maintaining current technological, managerial, and operating standards and upholding such standards through training and discipline. Under its maintenance function, management performs its assigned tasks so that everybody can follow standard operating procedure (SOP). Improvement, meanwhile, refers to activities directed toward elevating current standards. The Japanese view of management thus boils down to one precept: Maintain and improve standards.

As Figure 1-2 shows, improvement can be classified as either kaizen or innovation. Kaizen signifies small improvements as a result of ongoing efforts. Innovation involves a drastic improvement as a result of a large investment of resources in new technology or equipment. (Whenever money is a key factor, innovation is expensive.) Because of their fascination with innovation, Western managers tend to be impatient and overlook the long-term benefits kaizen can bring to a company. Kaizen, on the other hand, emphasizes human efforts, morale, communication, training, teamwork, involvement, and self-discipline—a commonsense, low-cost approach to improvement.

Process Versus Result

Kaizen fosters process-oriented thinking, since processes must be improved for results to improve. Failure to achieve planned results indicates a failure in the process. Management must identify and correct such process-based errors. Kaizen focuses on human efforts—an orientation that contrasts sharply with the result-based thinking in the West.

A process-oriented approach should also be applied in the introduction of the various kaizen strategies: the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle; the standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) cycle; quality, cost, and delivery (QCD); total quality management (TQM); just-in-time; and total productive maintenance (TPM). Kaizen strategies have failed many companies simply because they ignored process. The most crucial element in the kaizen process is the commitment and involvement of top management. It must be demonstrated immediately and consistently to assure success in the kaizen process.

Following the PDCA/SDCA CYCLES

The first step in the kaizen process establishes the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle as a vehicle that assures the continuity of kaizen in pursuing a policy of maintaining and improving standards. It is one of the most important concepts of the process. (See Figure 1-3.)

Plan refers to establishing a target for improvement (since kaizen is a way of life, there should always be a target for improvement in any area) and devising action plans to achieve the target. Do refers to implementing the plan. Check refers to determining whether the implementation remains on track and has brought about the planned improvement. Act refers to performing and standardizing the new procedures to prevent recurrence of the original problem or to set goals for the new improvements. The PDCA cycle revolves continuously; no sooner is an improvement made than the resulting status quo becomes the target for further improvement. PDCA means never being satisfied with the status quo. Because employees prefer the status quo and frequently do not have initiative to improve conditions, management must initiate PDCA by establishing continuously challenging goals.

In the beginning, any new work process is unstable. Before one starts working on PDCA, any current process must be stabilized in a process often referred to as the standardize-do-check-act (SDCA) cycle. (See Figure 1-4.)

Every time an abnormality occurs in the current process, the following questions must be asked: Did it happen because we did not have a standard? Did it happen because the standard was not followed? Or did it happen because the standard was not adequate? Only after a standard has been established and followed, stabilizing the current process, should one move on to PDCA.

Thus, SDCA standardizes and stabilizes the current processes, while PDCA improves them. SDCA refers to maintenance and PDCA refers to improvement; these become the two major responsibilities of management.

Putting Quality First

Of the primary goals of quality, cost, and delivery, quality should always have the highest priority. No matter how attractive the price and delivery terms offered to the customer, the company will not be able to compete if the product or service lacks quality. Practicing a quality-first credo requires management commitment because managers often face the temptation to make compromises in meeting delivery requirements or cutting costs. In doing so, they risk sacrificing not only quality but the life of the business as well.

Speak with Data

Kaizen is a problem-solving process. In order for a problem to be correctly understood and solved, the problem must be recognized and the relevant data gathered and analyzed. Trying to solve a problem without hard data is akin to resorting to hunches and feelings—not a very scientific or objective approach. Collecting data on the current status helps you understand where you are now focusing; this serves as a starting point for improvement. Collecting, verifying, and analyzing data for improvement is a theme that recurs throughout this book, as you will see later.

The Next Process Is the Customer

All work is a series of processes, and each process has its supplier as well as its customer. A material or a piece of information provided by process A (supplier) is worked on and improved in process B and then sent on to process C. The next process should always be regarded as a customer. This axiom—the next process is the customer—refers to two types of customers: internal (within the company) and external (out in the market).

Most people working in an organization deal with internal customers. This realization should lead to a commitment never to pass on defective parts or inaccurate pieces of information to those in the next process. When everybody in the organization practices this axiom, the external customer in the market receives a high-quality product or service as a result. A real quality-assurance system means that everybody in the organization subscribes to and practices this axiom.


The following are major systems that should be in place in order to successfully achieve a kaizen strategy:

• Total quality control/total quality management

• A just-in-time production system (Toyota Production System)

• Total productive maintenance

• Policy deployment

• A suggestion system

• Small-group activities

Total Quality Control/Total Quality Management

One of the principles of Japanese management has been total quality control (TQC), which, in its early development, emphasized control of the quality process. This has evolved into a system encompassing all aspects of management, and is now referred to as total quality management (TQM), a term used internationally.

Regarding the TQC/TQM movement as a part of kaizen strategy gives us a clearer understanding of the Japanese approach. Japanese TQC/TQM should not be regarded strictly as a quality control activity; TQC/TQM has been developed as a strategy to aid management in becoming more competitive and profitable by helping it to improve in all aspects of business. In TQC/TQM, Q, meaning quality, has priority, but there are other goals, too—namely, cost and delivery.

The T in TQC/TQM signifies total, meaning that it involves everybody in the organization, from top management through middle managers, supervisors, and shop floor workers. It further extends to suppliers, dealers, and wholesalers. The T also refers to top management's leadership and performance—so essential for successful implementation of TQC/TQM.

The C refers to control or process control. In TQC/TQM, key processes must be identified, controlled, and improved on continuously in order to improve results. Management's role in TQC/TQM is to set up a plan to check the process against the result in order to improve the process, not to criticize the process on the basis of the result.

TQC/TQM in Japan encompasses such activities as policy deployment, building quality assurance systems, standardization, training and education, cost management, and quality circles.

The Just-in-Time Production System

Originating at Toyota Motor Company under the leadership of Taiichi Ohno, the just-in-time (JIT) production system aims at eliminating non-value-adding activities of all kinds and achieving a lean production system flexible enough to accommodate fluctuations in customer orders. This production system is supported by such concepts as takt time (the time it takes to produce one unit) versus cycle time, one-piece flow, pull production, jidohka (autonomation), U-shaped cells, and setup reduction.

To realize the ideal just-in-time production system, a series of kaizen activities must be carried out continuously to eliminate non-value-adding work in gemba. JIT dramatically reduces cost, delivers the product in time, and greatly enhances company profits.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

An increasing number of manufacturing companies now practice total productive maintenance (TPM) within as well as outside of Japan. Whereas TQM emphasizes improving overall management performance and quality, TPM focuses on improving equipment quality. TPM seeks to maximize equipment efficiency through a total system of preventive maintenance spanning the lifetime of the equipment.

Just as TQM involves everybody in the company, TPM involves everybody at the plant. The five S's of housekeeping (discussed in Chapter 5), another pivotal activity in gemba, may be regarded as a prelude to TPM. However, five-S activities have registered remarkable achievements in many cases even when carried out separately from TPM.

Policy Deployment

Although kaizen strategy aims at making improvements, its impact may be limited if everybody is engaged in kaizen for kaizen's sake without any aim. Management should establish clear targets to guide everyone and make certain to provide leadership for all kaizen activities directed toward achieving the targets. Real kaizen strategy at work requires closely supervised implementation.

First, top management must devise a long-term strategy, broken down into medium-term and annual strategies. Top management must have a plan to deploy strategy, passing it down through subsequent levels of management until it reaches the shop floor. As the strategy cascades down to the lower echelons, the plan should include increasingly specific action plans and activities. For instance, a policy statement along the lines of "We must reduce our cost by 10 percent to stay competitive" may be translated on the shop floor to such activities as increasing productivity, reducing inventory and rejects, and improving line configurations.

Kaizen without a target would resemble a trip without a destination. Kaizen is most effective when everybody works to achieve a target, and management should set that target.

The Suggestion System

The suggestion system functions as an integral part of individual-oriented kaizen, and emphasizes the morale-boosting benefits of positive employee participation. Japanese managers see its primary role as that of sparking employee interest in kaizen by encouraging them to provide many suggestions, no matter how small. Japanese employees are often encouraged to discuss their suggestions verbally with supervisors and put them into action right away, even before submitting suggestion forms. They do not expect to reap great economic benefits from each suggestion. Developing kaizen-minded and self-disciplined employees is the primary goal. This outlook contrasts sharply with that of Western management's emphasis on the economic benefits and financial incentives of suggestion systems.

Small-Group Activities

A kaizen strategy includes small-group activities—informal, voluntary, intracompany groups organized to carry out specific tasks in a workshop environment. The most popular type of small-group activity is quality circles. Designed to address not only quality issues but also such issues as cost, safety, and productivity, quality circles may be regarded as group-oriented kaizen activities. Quality circles have played an important part in improving product quality and productivity in Japan. However, their role has often been blown out of proportion by overseas observers, who believe that these groups are the mainstay of quality activities in Japan. Management plays a leading role in realizing quality—in ways that include building quality assurance systems, providing employee training, establishing and deploying policies, and building cross-functional systems for quality, cost, and delivery. Successful quality circle activities indicate that management plays an invisible but vital role in supporting such activities.

The Ultimate Goal of Kaizen Strategy

Since kaizen deals with improvement, we must know which aspects of business activities need to be improved most. And the answer to this question is quality, cost, and delivery (QCD). My previous book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, used the term quality, cost, and scheduling (QCS). Since that time QCD has replaced QCS as the commonly accepted terminology.


Excerpted from GEMBA KAIZEN by Masaaki Imai Copyright © 1997 by Kaizen Institute, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

What is Gemba? House of Gemba.Managers' Roles in Gemba.Foundations of Gemba Kaizen.How to Implement Gemba Kaizen.Major Activities to Promote Gemba Kaizen.What Comes After Gemba Kaizen.Human Aspects of Gemba Kaizen.
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