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Introducing Kaizen at national level

WHEN I first heard of the word ‘Kaizen’ in 1993 after I had joined Boart Longyear Zambia Limited, I thought that it was too scientific and complicated.
As I got to grips with the science of Total Quality Management, I started to understand and appreciate the meaning and application of Kaizen and was even more delighted to find that Kaizen was a Japanese word adopted by both the English and the Americans and is part of their dictionaries.
The Wikipedia free dictionary defines the word ‘Kaizen’, Japanese, as “change for the better” or “improvement”; the English translation is “continuous improvement” or “continual improvement”).
Kaizen refers to a workplace ‘quality’ strategy and is often associated with the Toyota Production System and related to various quality-control systems, including methods of W. Edwards Deming.
I was delighted to hear President Lungu pronounce during his address to the 11th Session of the National Assembly that the government is establishing a Kaizen institute.  This was not the first time that I heard a Zambian leader talk about Kaizen but it was the first time I heard such levels of intended commitment to actualising Kaizen.
I therefore felt compelled to share some basic information on ‘Kaizen’.
Kaizen aims to eliminate waste (defined as “activities that add cost but do not add value”). It is often the case that this means “to take it apart and put back together in a better way”. This is then followed by standardisation of this ‘better way’ with others, through standardised work.  With the level of wastage in our society from different angles, Kaizen is a practice whose time has come.
I have learnt to extend Kaizen to my home and to social interactions and have found it very helpful.  Kaizen does not necessarily entail having major technological inventions, it is about having small incremental changes.
Kaizen is a daily activity whose purpose goes beyond improvement. It is also a process which, when done correctly, humanises the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (both mental and physical), and teaches people how to perform experiments using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.
Kaizen must operate with three principles in place: process and results (not results-only); systemic thinking (i.e. big picture, not solely the narrow view); and non-judgmental, non-blaming (because blaming is wasteful).
People at all levels of an organisation participate in Kaizen, from the chief executive officer to the least paid person, as well as external stakeholders when applicable. The format for Kaizen can be individual, suggestion system, small group or large group.
In Toyota, it is usually a local improvement within a work station or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity.
Whilst Kaizen (in Toyota) usually delivers small improvements, the culture of continual small improvements and standardisation yields large results in a form of compound productivity improvement. Hence the English translation of Kaizen can be “continuous improvement” or “continual improvement”.
The “zen” in Kaizen emphasises the learn-by-doing aspect of improving production. This philosophy differs from the “command-and-control” improvement programmes of the mid-20th century.
Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. Large-scale pre-planning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements.
In Japanese, this is pronounced ‘kaizen’.
‘Kai’ means ‘change’ or ‘the action to correct’, ‘zen’ means ‘good’.
In the next article, I will share some examples of what we can implement at household, organisational and national level to implement Kaizen.