Kaizen: Continuous Improvement and Quality Circles
This forms partof the 'Japanese' approach to management, or 'Lean Production'. Kaizen is a Japanese word for an approach to work, where workers are told they have two jobs to do:
- firstly to carry out their existing task
- secondly to come up with ways of improving the task
Kaizen or 'Continuous Improvement' is a policy of constantly introducing small incremental changes in a business in order to improve quality and/or efficiency.
Kaizen can operate at the level of an individual, through Kaizen Groups or Quality Circles which are groups specifically brought together to identify potential improvements. This approach would also be compatible with Team Working or Cell Production, as improvements could form an important part of the team's aims.
Key Features of Kaizen
- Improvements are based on many small changes rather than the radical changes that might arise from research and development.
- Small improvements are less likely to require major capital investment than major process changes.
- The ideas come from the talent of the existing workforce, as opposed to using research and development, consultants or equipment; any of which could be very expensive.
- All employees should continually be seeking ways to improve their own performance.
- It helps encourage workers to take ownership for their work and can help reinforce team working and worker motivation.
Successful Quality Circles
Evidence of successful Quality Circles suggests that there are no formal rules about how to organise them. However, the following guidelines are often suggested:
1. The circle should not be too large - it may become difficult for circle team members to contribute effectively.
2. Meetins should be held away from the work area - so that team members are free from distraction.
3. Quality circles should make sure that each meeting has a clear agenda and objective.
4. The circle should not be afraid to call on outside or expert help if needed.
1. Some firms set targets for individuals or for teams to come up with a minimum number of ideas in a period of time. Employees can find this to be an unwelcome pressure, as it becomes increasingly difficult to find further scope for improvement.
2. Some firms, especially Japanese owned, conduct quality improvement sessions in the workers' own time, which can lead to resentment unless there is appropriate recognition and reward for suggestions.