Friday, 9 September 2016

Kaizen, Lean and Six Sigma

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese word for “Change for the better” or it is also referred to as “Continuous Improvement”. So it is a journey and not a destination, it is a mindset as opposed to being a specific tool. It is a culture that needs to changed & adopted by the organizations. It uses personal creativity and ingenuity to identify problems and then develop and implement ideas to solve those problems. Kaizen philosophy says that everything can be improved and everything can perform better or more efficiently. It helps to identify 3 MU’s – Muda (wastes), Mura (variation/ inconsistency) and Muri (strain/ burden on people & machines).

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Kaizen was originally introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986. Today kaizen is recognized worldwide as an important pillar of an organization’s long-term competitive strategy. Kaizen is continuous improvement that is based on certain guiding principles:

·         Good processes bring good results

·         Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation

·         Speak with data, manage by facts

·         Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems

·         Work as a team

·         Kaizen is everybody’s business

·         And much more!

One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. However this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements. While the majority of changes may be small, the greatest impact may be kaizens that are led by senior management as transformational projects, or by cross-functional teams as kaizen events.

What is Lean

Lean is opposite to fat and it often focuses on removal of ‘wastes’ sometimes referred to as ‘muda’ in Japanese. Operations that fail to create value for the end customer are deemed “wasteful.”

Although the basic lean model was introduced more than 100 years ago, it has continued to evolve over time, from Henry Ford’s continuous assembly lines for the Ford Model T, to the concept of interchangeable parts used by Eli Whitney and Samuel Colt, to the Toyota Production System. These concepts, in addition to a multitude of others, have come together to formulate what we know today as lean manufacturing.

What is Six Sigma

It is a set of tools and strategies to limit defects and variability/ in consistency, also referred to as “Mura” in business processes. Its two project methodologies – DMAIC (define, measure, analyse, improve, control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyse, design, verify) are based on Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. The team leverages advanced statistical techniques such as pareto charts and root cause analysis to reach quantified value targets.

The roots of Six Sigma as a measurement standard can be traced back to Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) who introduced the concept of the normal curve. Six Sigma as a measurement standard in product variation can be traced back to the 1920’s when Walter Shewhart showed that three sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction. Many measurement standards (Cpk, Zero Defects, etc.) later came on the scene but credit for coining the term “Six Sigma” goes to a Motorola engineer named Bill Smith. (Incidentally, “Six Sigma” is a federally registered trademark of Motorola).


Kaizen looks to improve all aspects of a business through standardizing processes, increasing efficiency and eliminating waste by involving everyone while Six Sigma focuses more on improving the quality of the final product by finding and eliminating causes of defects, whether by variances (Sigma is a mathematical term that measures a process' deviation from perfection) in the business process or in manufacturing and Lean focus on elimination of ‘wastes’in order to improve process speed and quality through reduction of process wastes

The most important fact however is that one is not better than the other - you need, can benefit from the use of, and should be using all. The bottom line is don’t waste lots of time and money trying to put ways of thinking and improving in place as these concepts/ tools are designed to save time and money. The ultimate goal will be Operational Excellence for Business Excellence and the spirit should be to improve, to change the paradigms, to change the culture, to change the current set of habits, etc. 

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