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Jan 29, 2012

Kaizan vs Kaizen

Everybody in the business world is familiar with the Japanese word 'Kaizen' and it refers to the process of effecting continuous improvement in a business organization.

Quality of products cannot be improved in one or two steps. Every business organization should strive to introduce improvements in every stage of the production process and there will always be room for further improvement. By introducing improvements, the production process becomes easier and more cost effective. The profits of the company increase and the company will have the edge to compete with any other company in the market.

There is another word, Kaizan, which sounds similar but is entirely different in meaning. It refers to the unfair practice of falsifying business records and it is illegal in many countries. By cooking the books, the company tries to cheat the authorities and the public. The company's only aim is to make money by hook or by crook. In practice, no improvement takes place in the business organization and whatever it tries to portray is market hype.

In a competitive business world where everybody is trying to make profits, only a very few people understand what kaizen means. It is therefore necessary to explain the tools of kaizen and the healthy business practices to make improvements in the production process.

The most difficult obstacle to overcome while implementing improvement is the business culture. Talking about improvements will not bring about quality in the company's products; there have to be concrete steps taken to change the existing business practices.

Kaizen, in its real sense is not merely about reducing the workforce and trying to create an image of a prosperous company among the public. These efforts may result in some short term benefits but they don't improve the quality of the company's products.

Toyota, the leading manufacturer of vehicles, which doesn't give false and unrealistic promises to its customers is an example of a company in which kaizen is practiced earnestly. Its mission statement simply states that the company will be fully responsible for its actions and the quality of its products.

To achieve product quality, waste must be eliminated at all levels of the production process. It includes efficiency in accounting, workforce, marketing and so on. The company should aim at long-term goals rather than short-term ones. The business organization as a whole, starting from the top to the bottom, should be responsible for bringing about continuous improvement in its production process.

Konusuke Matsushita once explained why Western companies are doomed to fail. He attributed strict adherence to Theory X as the main reason for the failure of Western companies. Western companies exclude the working class from decision making process and the employees are forced to work like machines. There is no unity between the workers and the management in Western companies. Such companies will fail to bring about any improvement in the quality of their products.

Kaizen, on the other hand, emphasizes unity among all and respect for each other. It recognizes the fact that the backbone of a company is its work force. It, therefore, takes all possible means to improve the quality of the workers. To improve the quality of products, the company should respect not only its workers but all other people who the company has dealings with as well. This is one area where the Western companies miserably fail. They put forward lame excuses for lack of respect for its employees and customers.

Any step taken to improve the quality of services and products must be based on long term goals. Quality improvement is possible only if every individual in the company is committed to improving the quality of its products. It is the mindset of people that has to change most in order to achieve quality improvement.