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What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Kaizen?

Updated on January 8, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of 2, and a published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Kaizen? What are the pros and cons of Kaizen? What are the limits of Kaizen, and what are some of the common problems with Kaizen?

One benefit of Kaizen is that it isn't as complex and thus more likely to succeed than Lean Six Sigma.
One benefit of Kaizen is that it isn't as complex and thus more likely to succeed than Lean Six Sigma. | Source

The Advantages of Kaizen

Kaizen promotes problem solving. Unlike many organizational fads that try to motivate people, such as empowerment sessions and quality slogans, it actually makes a difference.

It focuses on quick wins. One benefit of Kaizen versus other process improvement methodologies is the fact that you make progress toward goals. The greater issue is not continuing Kaizen events to make things even better. Kaizen is a continuous improvement methodology. Following it for a while and then quitting is contrary to the principle of continuous improvement, though the focus of what counts as better may shift from greater quality to leaner operations and back again.

Kaizen, when it involves people at all levels, allows process improvement ideas to bubble up that may have been ignored by front line managers. However, if managers impose changes and employees think it is simply to make them work harder, you will get push back. This is especially true if the Kaizen process changes add paperwork, data recording and additional operational steps while management is expecting the same cycle time from employees.

Alternating between “lean” and quality improvement methodologies under the umbrella of Kaizen allows you to make progress in all areas without the complexity and higher risk of failure that comes when you try to combine both together in one project, a common problem with Lean Six Sigma.

The Disadvantages of Kaizen

The Kaizen method of training everyone in lean / Kaizen concepts takes everyone out of their daily jobs, and not all of them will use it. Emphasis on Kaizen Blitzes for rapid improvements is that it tends to give too little time to train people in Kaizen in general.

If you demand Kaizen events without giving people the time to do so, instead of expecting them to magically fit it into their schedules, it likely won’t happen.

The small wins may not be what you need to make the most difference when it comes to throughput or quality. And local optimums do not mean the whole system is optimized.

When you tie Kaizen to key performance indicators, you will get projects that are focused on those KPIs but not the broad and deep changes that dramatically improve the organization long term. Be careful that your “lean” and Kaizen methods don’t end up demanding people to do more in less time but fail to recognize it is an acceleration of the work rate because it has a different name. Instead, only increase your expectations of throughput if you have actually removed motions, steps and actions from their work standards.

There’s a tendency to use the Japanese terms for Kaizen from the Toyota Production System, when English terms work just as well and require less education. And this isn’t disrespect, since the whole system was developed by William Deming based on the plan-do-study-adjust (Shewhart) cycle.

Kaizen is simply another iterative process improvement method.
Kaizen is simply another iterative process improvement method. | Source

Common Problems with Kaizen

If one group goes gung-ho with Kaizen, it will improve its department but runs into limits when other departments don’t join in. The broad organizational changes are typically larger than what is handled by smaller Kaizen teams.

As with any DMAIC method, too many groups fail to spend enough time on monitoring the process after the changes, instead jumping to the next “loop” of the continual process improvement cycle. This means your operations may slip to old, less efficient processes while you’re making yet more changes.

Too many Kaizen leaders assume resistance is due to human recalcitrance, instead of people reluctant to adopt yet another process improvement methodology. This is especially true when someone comes in and says “we need to adopt Kaizen like X company”, ignoring the fact that lean methodologies are very similar to Kaizen. Those who shift from Lean Six Sigma to Kaizen don’t recognize that they are dropping the Six Sigma from their Lean Six Sigma operations. This is doubly true if you’re outright calling the new process improvement methodology “Lean Kaizen”.

If you implement Kaizen on the shop floor or in customer facing operations but ignore management and the back office, you won’t see the benefits it can produce.

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