I think Toyota had some pressing reasons to make Kaizen part of their culture. But I can’t think of any one more evident than the elimination of waste itself.
Perhaps that was what compelled Toyota into making Kaizen, a culture. It is a shared value and belief. It is everyone’s expectation. Kaizen every day, everywhere, by everyone.
At Toyota Japan they call it Kaizen Teian, which is impossible to properly translate into English. Teian can be interpreted as a proposal that has been already implemented, it is done. (in English, ‘proposal’ always means something for the future).
Some may view this as a suggestion system, but it is fundamentally different.
Since waste is happening all the time, Kaizens must be done all the time. If waste was happening eventually, Kaizens could be fine if done eventually.
Last week we had an interesting debate at the Lean Summit Portugal where one executive said his next Kaizen event was going to be in August and he pronounced proudly that it would be “conducted by a Japanese from Japan!”.
The Kaizen events I see everywhere and sometimes conduct myself are one week long, typically. The preference for the traditional 5-day length probably came from the logistical needs of the Japanese sensei who didn’t want to spend more than a week away and of the client who didn’t want to disrupt his operations (and budget) for longer than that. Although the scenario has since changed drastically, most people still keep that format. This means that a batch of Kaizens will happen in that timeframe, four months from now, with one specific group, in some specific areas. And the question is, what do we do with the waste that is being generated in this meantime? How about the waste in other areas that will not be addressed this year? Or the 99% of the other people who are not part of the “Kaizen event team”?
Although this sounds like a memorandum anti-Kaizen event, it is not.
Kaizen events are great to take some portions of the organization out of their inertia, give some people momentum, educate rapidly some groups, have great impacting and visible results., etc.
So, nothing against Kaizen events. But everything against Kaizen events that replace Kaizen Teian.
While the first places more weight on the results (of course by following a process), the latter places greater emphasis on the process, the process of continually eliminating waste. And the belief is that results will come as consequence.
I think Kaizen events are fine provided that there is the Kaizen Teian in place, and first, never later.