Japan’s most useful export: The principles of Kaizen

Japan’s most useful export: The principles of Kaizen

November 24, 2017 0 By WFTV

FROM the debris of World War Two, Japan had risen to be a formidable economic player on the world stage. Its tenacity and perseverance to do so is worthy of emulation of other countries.

They exported their products to more than 100 countries in the world in the form of hardware and in the automotive industry, they have become ubiquitous.

While it is apparent of their presence in hardware, the man on the street is not aware that they exported their software espoused through the various Japanese management values notably codified in the principles of “Kaizen”.

The Japanese concept of “Kaizen” means continuous improvement, a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small incremental changes in order to improve efficiency and quality.

It is a concept that might be useful for all Malaysian companies and industries to emulate.   

Kaizen was originally introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986. Today, kaizen is recognised worldwide as an important pillar of an organisation’s long-term competitive strategy.

It is a component of lean manufacturing that consist of the “5S” notably sort (Seiri), set in order (seiton), shine (seiso), standardise (seiketsu) and sustain (shitsuke).

The results you can expect from a “5S” programme are: improved profitability, efficiency, service and safety.

Through Japanese localisation policy evidenced in countries in which they invested, most prominently seen in the automotive industry, the principles of Kaizen were infused into work practices that led to better quality products at a reasonable cost.

This made products even in host countries competitive internationally, outpacing even products from the developed world.

The world has seen successful emulation of the principles of Kaizen that led to better productivity and profits.

In 2006, when Alan Mulally, previously executive president of Boeing, took over Ford, he understood the principles of Kaizen and focussed on efficient processes. Ford was able to recover from the rough times in the Great Recession of the 2000s to success in 2014.

Even governments that use Kaizen principles have seen the vast improvements in its work practices and productivity. In 2012, the Kaizen Institute of India reported that education department of the Gujarat government commissioned two weeks of Kaizen training for more than 80 employees as an attempt to improve the functionality of its public sector.

In Malaysia, a shining example of a company that practices Kaizen is Perodua, a company that is leading the market in Malaysia. Its margins are comfortable and have shown no signs of complacency.

Perodua’s competitive edge in efficiency brought by its partner Daihatsu and through discipline has enabled the company to progress.

For Perodua, it meant it would have access to new technology for products as well as manufacturing and would receive guidance on how to reduce costs, one of the secrets of success of Japanese car makers.

Perodua plants practice Dojo, which means “home of practicing”, to maintain quality and service standards. It has implemented a “5S” workplace organisation method comprising of the five Japanese words, to create a pleasant workplace for all. Dojo is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the way”. The term can also refer to any formal training place. Its factory has seen higher levels of automation with fewer workers that are required with no significant decline in productivity levels.

With increased levels of automation, the skill set of its workforce is much higher.

Each new factory worker is given extensive training which starts with the way he or she dresses and behaves to understanding the importance of safety. This takes place during the day-long course at the “Basic Dojo”, where they learn about the process in the factory as well as how a car works.

A clean–dust free environment is important to ensure quality, and Pikachu and Pokemon characters are used as mascots to inspire workers to keep their areas clean at all times.

On the retail side, it even works hard to provide better ownership experience with branches throughout the country have been undergoing upgrading gradually.

Ultimately, Perodua aims to be a global player and it is set to achieve the goal of having world-class production processes and products that have global quality and global performance.

It appears that the Japanese have not only exported its products but also its competitive advantage in the form of Kaizen which has helped many companies prosper.

Surely other Malaysian companies that understand the value of Kaizen can take a leaf from Perodua and its successful assimilation of Kaizen values.

Sathish was previously the Senior Analyst at the Institute of strategic and International Studies and most recently as the Assistant Business Editor in a local newspaper.