Guest Post: Reports of Kaizen’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated
By Dan Markovitz:
You'd think by now we'd be past this sort of nonsense that passes for journalism.
In a recent Fortune magazine article detailing the troubles faced by Sharp, the author claims that:
The once lauded “kaizen” system, implementing constant refinements to improve quality by tweaking the production process, mimicked world-wide, is now discredited in one view. “The Japanese business model has reached a dead-end,” writes Yasuyuki Maruyama, senior researcher at the Yomiuri Research Institute in a recent report.
That's right: a prestigious and respected business publication has conflated kaizenâ€”a toolâ€”with a business model a company might pursue.
I won't bother pointing out the obvious fact that kaizen isn't solely employed in the fields of manufacturing and production.
The more significant issue is that kaizen isn't the Japanese business model, any more than “maximizing shareholder value” is the American business model. Further, ascribing Sharp's problemsâ€”or Sony's, or Olympus's, or Panasonic'sâ€”to the relentless pursuit of quality, without considering other factors such as leadership, the rising yen, cultural insularity, etc. is absurd. I'm surprised that article didn't trot out the hoary fallacy that just-in-time production has caused the downfall of these electronics giants.
Moreover, kaizen is a powerful tool that has been, and continues to be, used to deliver higher quality products and services at lower costs. How can kaizen be “discredited” when the story of the American auto industry stands as a stark example of what happens when a company doesn't seek to improve? How can it be discredited when hospitals that deploy kaizen lower costs and patient mortality.
I think it's sad that after all these years-after Deming and Imai, after Toyota and Wiremoldâ€”so many people are so eager to put the nail in the coffin of lean thinking and the tools that go with it.
Dan Markovitz is the founder of TimeBack Management, a consulting firm that radically improves the performance of individuals and teams. He blogs at www.timebackmanagement.com and tweets as @timeback. He is also author of the Shingo Award winning book A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance.