What the systems thinking group believes.....about Kaizen

Kaizen means to change or correct something for the better.  It is an attitude, a philosophy, a culture.  It is not a methodology.  It is living with the aim of continuously improving everything we do.  In this way, a student of Kaizen can see the way to improve  is not always the same.  Sometimes it is a six sigma application, sometimes you just need to move a workbench two feet.  Sometimes, you need a psychologist, or a priest!! 

This is why we think about Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position with the Systems Thinker's hat on.  All things in a system are related, and you must be aware of the impact you may be having on something upstream or downstream from you.  This is why understanding  Gemba is so important.   Gemba is the Japanese for "actual place"  it is where you create value for your customers through daily work.  Gemba  is where you go for improvement. 

A contributor to Wikipedia says:
Gemba is a Japanese term meaning "the place where the truth can be found." Others may call it "the value proposition." 

So, if you go to the actual place where value is created for the customer (and this may be at the house of the customer!!) and you observe the activities in this place in order to understand what actions can be taken to make them better, you are practicing Kaizen, or Continuous Quality Improvement, or Total Quality Control!!  It is not so complicated.  You only need to see, to think,  to act, and to look again when you have acted to see if you have made an improvement and if you can use this idea somewhere else.

When I first came to the Automotive Industry, I was confused by the Ford 8D Method, the Chrysler 7 Step Method, and the General Motors 5 Step Method.  I finally made a table with all three and realized they were all the same!  The all have the good common sense of  the PDSA cycle, with a special emphasis on the Planning phase to include containment of  errors so that they will not reach the customer's Gemba.  So, you can call Kaizen many things in many different situations.  It can be PDCA, PDSA, DMAIC, DMADV or any other alphabet soup you wish to create!!  But it is going to the Gemba, seeing the problem or opportunity, planning the improvement, making the improvement, and checking to see that the improvement is real.  Kaizen is planning, analysis, and control of systems and processes to continuously and forever improve the quality of products and services.  We have developed our own way of looking at the improvement cycle (which is actually the organizational or business development cycle as well) which is a little different from what you're used to looking at.  


This is a systems thinking diagram which shows how the "control" part of PDCA or the "study" part of PDSA or the Measure/Analyze part of DMAIC really works in the system.  All planning should come from strategic planning.  The strategic plan is where we find the AIM of the system.  This AIM is then translated into sets of smaller plans (with measureable targets) which must be executed in order to reach the AIM.  Project and Quality management follows the execution and adjusts the system to ensure that the projects required to reach the goals are on track.  Sometimes the system needs big adjustments and we use the Six Sigma tools to do this.  Sometimes it needs only small countermeasures, so we use Gemba Kaizen thinking to implement them.  Most of the time, just having a measureable plan and really good communications like Andon boards and other visual management tools will let everybody know they are doing a good job and help them to see where they can do a better job.  In this way, the word "control" doesn't sound so bad.  It's not like having people on a leash, instead, it's giving them a way to steer their actions towards the AIM of the system and a way to get help if they see the process drifting in the wrong direction.