Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kaizen your life

The Japanese are well known for their persistent focus on refining and improving processes and systems to ensure optimal function. They have therefore over the years coined several terms which are used in business and in the personal lives of people in Japan as well as across the world. Some of the words the Japanese have coined include Kaizen,(continuous improvement), muda (wastefulness), Anzen (safety), Nemawashi (ensuring buy-in), Kodawari (continuous pursuit of excellence) and Genchi Genbutsu (go and see for yourself). Most of these Japanese business terms are key principles used within the Toyota Production System where they are applied religiously to ensure consistency in all areas of operations. Below is each term in brief detail to get more insight.

Muda - waste, uselessness, idleness or wastefulness and is used to identify ways of dealing with waste. Muda is identified within the business and is reduced or eliminated if possible. Variations of muda include Mura (inconsistency) and Muri (unreasonable request).

Anzen - safety within every area of operation to reduce injury or fatality in business. It is a conscious effort and awareness as well as the responsibility of everyone within a business to ensure that hazards and unsafe practices are eliminated, while unsafe areas and materials are handled and managed correctly.

Kodawari - the uncompromising and relentless pursuit of perfection. If something works and is efficient, it is continuously repeated to ensure consistency as well as customer satisfaction.

Genchi Genbutsu - personally going to see an activity before one makes a decision going forward. The belief is that you can never fully understand something until you have gone to the place where it is happening and seen for yourself how it is done on the ground. That is when you can gain a full understanding in order to contribute to improvement.

Nemawashi - Nemawashi literally means going around the roots and is the concept of laying the ground work for change. It is a consultative process of creating alignment with stakeholder interests during change to ensure that decision makers are kept advised of the route a proposed change is taking, such that when it is finalized and formalized, they will easily support the change.

Kaizen - developed after the World War 2 in the process of rebuilding Japan, Kaizen recognizes that change does not always happen overnight in big drastic actions, but can occur through small continuous improvements over time until a process is perfected to its optimal level. It refers to multiple continuous changes towards excellence.

It is unavoidable to see that all the above terms apply to normal personal life as much as they do to business. We live our daily lives managing waste and loss, be it time, financial or any other resource we own (muda). In whatever we do we ensure our safety and that of others around us (anzen), and we try to gain an understanding of things we have an interest in, sometimes through trips to places like museums, cultural heritage sites and other places of interest (genchi genbutsu). Most people are relentlessly pursuing perfection in their areas of work and passion (kodawari) and others are trying to improve in general by making continuous changes sometimes in form of annual new year resolutions (kaizen) or dietary changes. I struggle to choose a favourite among these terms as they are all pervasive in what I do, but Kaizen seems to appeal the most to me because it cuts across all the other terms as well. The whole point of this post is to Kaizen your life through continuous improvements, as it is said one can never stop learning. Which one is your favorite Japanese term or most pursued and how have you pursued it in your own life?