During the 1980s, management practices focusing on employee involvement, teamwork, and improved communication channels were not new. However, Japanese firms applied the techniques in a different way, which gave them a competitive advantage compared to their western peers. The lessons learnt in the 1980s through Japanese firms demonstrate a commitment to the philosophy of continuous improvement, called the Kaizen. Kaizen means the practice of improvement, while involving all stakeholders in an activity. In Japan, philosophy is a part of social and corporate culture, and stakeholders often do not realize the influence on their behavior. As a result, Kaizen is a valuable corporate culture utilized to improve on productivity and business performance, and attain competitive advantage on a global platform.

Kaizen provides that improvement starts by admitting that an organization has a problem. The stage provides an opportunity for employees to develop solutions and provide an opportunity for change. As a result, the Kaizen model provides that individuals involved in certain tasks are knowledgeable in the practice. Therefore, by involving and showing confidence in their ability, they develop a sense of ownership to the problem, striving to solve it efficiently. For example, the practice encourages everyone to develop suggestions on a regular basis. As a result, it is continuous, and Japanese companies such as Canon and Toyota indicate that they have a total of 65 to 75 suggestions per employee annually, which they document, share among colleague and eventually implement (Akao, 2004).

Kaizen is a team process. An organization develops teams of individuals from functional disciplines to find solutions for a project. Members of a team are experts in various fields. A teams role is to apply the basic applicable tools to facilitate change. The team formation begins before a project. At this stage, members of a team go through training on the basics of lean manufacturing Kaizen model. The team then spends a week deliberating on the action plan for change. For example, a team may spend between 12 to 66 hour in a day on developing, testing, and implementing the ideas (Akao, 2004). During the process, an organization dedicates such resources as human and capital in order to promote the project.

The Kaizen process follows several rules that vary with organizations. However, the basic concept is similar. It requires members in an organization to be open-minded, have positive attitudes, avoid excuses, seek solutions and take calculated actions. Additionally, it requires members of an organization to implement ideas, and not to seek perfection. Experts are usually at factory floors and disregard ranks. The idea enables them to get hands-on issues where they can find effective solutions to problems (Lareau, 2003). As a result, it does not acknowledge organizational ranks and boundaries. Managers, company officers and machine operators interact with no limits to identify and implement the ideas. Kaizen differs from traditional continuous improvement because it is action-based. Teams develop and implement solutions; they create processes or change them to enhance performance (Cooper & Slagmulder, 2003).

Kaizen is a low budget process, and this facilitates rapid improvement. When teams demonstrate and implement changes in span of a week, there is no time to spend money on new capital improvements, or complex and elaborate systems. An example of the process is setup time projects. When reducing changeover time for a machine by 80%, from an hour to five minutes, the solution may be to purchase a machine, programmable controller, or new tools (Akao, 2004). However, with Kaizen team model, it means that the team will only have time to develop new methods as a standard way of performing tasks. Even at a situation of unlimited resources, there would be no time spent much, but results would be received in the time allowed. Therefore, the model teaches that an organization can achieve preferable improvement goals by eliminating waste and developing creative solutions by using techniques and tools at hand (Lareau, 2003).

Kaizen principle is a corporate culture and cuts to the core of value. Companies that adopt the Kaizen model of continuous improvement report that it significantly reduces new capital equipment costs. Many opportunities exist for companies willing to sample the process, but the payoffs come to committed firms in terms of resources (Lareau, 2003). Even though the principle can be defined, it is not easy to master the process. The learning procedures of relevant ideas through cross-functional teams require study, dedication and perseverance because there is no one way of doing things. Therefore, the process needs guidance from experienced practitioners, with time cited, as the fundamental element to success. Additionally, just like with most business processes, the rewards depend on investments (Akao, 2004).

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Additionally, although the range of projects that a Kaizen team undertakes may be large, scope of coverage is narrow, and bound to resource constraints. For instance, in a factory environment, a team may be building a production cells from separate functionalized mechanism, another might be dealing with changeover time, while some other team might be creating pull systems to regulate a part of the process. The result should be clearly measured, such as parts per shift of man-hour, to give a clear picture of the tasks (Alukal & Manos, 2006).

Kaizen provides guidelines in problem-solving. The principle recognizes that where there is no problem, there is no potential for improvement. Problems do not inconvenience those who create them, and tend to be less sensate to it. At the operational level of management, the first response is to avoid a problem rather than correct it. However, the Kaizen principle recognizes that if individuals have a positive thought when a problem arises, they can turn it into a valuable opportunity for improvement. Subsequently, it provides for the recognition of a problem and a solution. After that, one surpasses previously set standards; hence, the continuous improvements take place (Akao, 2004).

A team needs knowledge and skills to implement Kaizen. As a result, employees within a team need training in Kaizen logic. The underlying logic is that employees become aware that by using skills available to them, they can promote continuous improvement and success of the business. Therefore, they will have job satisfaction and security. A team must have a leader, but he must be an equal member at the same time. He provides support to the team, and ensures that employees communicate regularly. The team also needs training on the responsibility of success or failure. The reason is that Kaizen is a long-term strategy, which means that employees will not be working in a value-added manner. However, the work is for improving business performance in the long run (Alukal & Manos, 2006).

In conclusion, improvement is the goal and responsibility of every business. Through small but ongoing effort of every stakeholder, significant reduction of inefficiency can be attained. Japanese companies have adopted the process as a business culture and termed it as Kaizen. Kaizen is a long-term strategy that involves employee in the decision-making process to find appropriate solutions to their scope of work. The process of Kaizen needs employees to be trained, and have confidence in their knowledge. As a result, an organization will address issues in an efficient and optimal way possible.

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