Figure 2.8 The eight disciplines of the Lean enterprise model (Morgan and Liker, 2006)
These tools and techniques can again be divided into 8 disciplines (Figure 2.8) and classified accordingly into four main categories to build a Lean Production organisation (Peters, 1989; Salvendy, 2001). Ahlstrom and Karlsson (1996) summarised these findings and created the following conceptualisation to show the major compositions of a Lean Production organisation (Figure 2.9).
Figure 2.9 The conceptualisation of Lean Production (Karlsson and Ahlstrom, 1996, p26)
Continuous Improvement in Lean Production
As a successor to Craft Production and Mass Production, Lean Production has been improved considerably to have many small and simple manufacturing machines but multi-skilled and experienced workforce (Womack et al., 1990). still, in manufacturing industry, having many machines and a skilled workforce does not make an outstanding production system. According to many past studies (e.g., Kono, 1982; Bessant et al., 1994, pp., p18; Bhuiyan and Baghel, 2005), what made Lean Production better than the previous systems was the inherent feature of achieving continuous improvement. As
Womack et al. (1990) pleaded, the implementation of continuous improvement is one of the basic features of Lean Production for striving towards perfection.
Continuous improvement has always been conspicuous as a powerful tool for maintaining the competitiveness of organisations through Lean Production and one of the fundamentals that support the implementation of other Lean tools and techniques (Toshiko and Shook, 2007). Ahlstrom (1998, p331) concluded that “the final Lean Production principle is continuous improvement: perfection is the only goal”. Liker and Hoseus (2008, p63) indicated that “without continuous improvement the tools of Lean Production would be useless”. Imai (1986, pxxxii) emphasised that continuous improvement is “the unifying thread running through the philosophy, the systems, and the problem-solving tools developed in Japan over the last 30 years”.
Continuous improvement is defined as “a continual quest to make things better in products, processes, customer service, etc.” (Bessant and Caffyn, 1997, p7). It involves company-wide (Bodek, 2002), high frequency changes (Chartered Quality Institute, 2011) and is synonymous with ‘innovation’ (Bessant et al., 1994; De Jager et al., 2004). Continuous improvement does not necessarily require large capital investments (Imai, 1986; Imai, 1997; Terziovski and Sohal, 2000) and is not necessarily based on advanced methodologies (Rapp and Eklund, 2002), it hardly results in a big leap or generates a dramatic change (Bhuiyan and Baghel, 2005).
The origins of continuous improvement
Continuous improvement is commonly cited as one of the key methods of Lean Production (Lillrank, 1995) and a modification to Taylorism (Tamura, 2006). It was derived from a unique Japanese culture (Recht and Wilderom, 1998; Yoneyama, 2007; Liker and Hoseus, 2008) that permeates the mindset and behaviour of the Japanese from an early age (De Mente, 1976). In all likelihood, the uniqueness of these characteristics may have handicapped non-Japanese companies seeking to implement continuous improvement (Onglatco, 1985).
However, it has also been argued that the antecedents of continuous improvement did not originate in Japan, nor it is a new Japanese phenomenon. This postulate was also identified in many studies (e.g., Kono, 1982; Imai, 1986; Cusumano, 1988; Schroeder
and Robinson, 1991; Bessant et al., 1993; Recht and Wilderom, 1998; Dinero, 2005; Holweg, 2007), in which the authors discussed that continuous improvement was not peculiar to the Japanese. Many Western organisations were indeed the precursor of the modern improvement programme (e.g., incentive-driven suggestion systems in the West), as their implementations can be traced back to the 1800s (Bhuiyan and Baghel, 2005), or much earlier (Holweg, 2007).
Some early examples of the same include employee suggestion programme in the British Navy in 1770 (Graban and Swartz, 2012); the awards scheme for improvement in William Denny & Brothers, a Scottish shipbuilding company, in 1890 (Schwerin, 2004); the implementation of a suggestion-box improvement programme in the US National Cash Register Corporation in 1894 (Bessant et al., 1993); the idea of making improvements from the ‘hundred-headed brain’ from the Lincoln Electric (Schroeder and Robinson, 1991); and later Henry Ford’s insistence on making improvement in Ford’s Highland Park Plant (Ford, 1926). The early examples of quality control activities also proceeded rapidly in the West, explained by the development of the British Standard BS 600 for quality control in 1935 (Morrision, 1958); the American equivalent – America’s Z1 Standards – Guide for Quality Control in 1941 (Ishikawa, 1990); and the establishment of the American Society for Quality Control (ASQC or ASQ) in 1946 (American Society for Quality, 2012).
Figure 2.10 The PDCA Cycle (Deming, 1986)
It is also pertinent to mention, the Shewhart Cycle or the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) Cycle (Figure 2.10), as a critical model and a major practice of improvement (Bakerjian and Mitchell, 1993), was originally developed by Walter Shewhart, an American physicist, engineer and statistician, in the 1930s (Shewhart, 1931). It was promoted within manufacturing industry (Shewhart, 1986) and established itself as most popular approach consequent to William Deming’s publications (e.g., Deming, 1950; Deming, 1982; Deming, 1986). This four-step process has now been universally adopted for problem- solving and formed the basis of Japanese continuous improvement (Bessant et al., 1994; Choi, 1995; Handyside, 1997, pp., p126-127; Bond, 1999; Watson et al., 2003) (Figure 2.11).
Figure 2.11 The cycle of Japanese continuous improvement (Suzaki, 1993, p96)
The Western improvement methods were introduced into Japan from the early 1900s (Saha, 1994; Choi and Liker, 1995; Recht and Wilderom, 1998).The Americans assisted Japan in rebuilding its economy post world war-II, through support for economic reforms and industrial development (Poropat and Kellett, 2009). The Economics and Scientific Section (ESS) group was created to develop Japanese management skills (Iguchi, 2003). The three Training within Industry (TWI) “J” programmes taught Job Instruction, Job Methods, and Job Relations (Dinero, 2005). The Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) introduced continuous improvement programmes (Ishikawa, 1990) conceived upon the best improvement methods from the West (Deming, 1950; Crocker et al., 1984; Inoue, 1985). The improvement methods then became integral to support the development of Japanese manufacturing industry (Saha, 1994).
The use of the improvement methods in Japan grew rapidly with the aid of Western management experts (e.g., Gilbreth and Carey, 1948; Deming, 1986; Juran, 1988). Poe (1991) postulated that the concepts of continuous improvement programmes were based on Japanese managers’ interpretations of the Western manufacturing philosophies. Japanese managers claimed to be responsive to new methods and ideas (Kono, 1982). They were quick to respond to foreign ideas and to implement them by conducting new
developmental research. For instance, in the 1950s, many early exemplary companies like Toshiba, Matsushita Electric, NEC, Canon and Toyota improvised their own branded improvement programmes to include both suggestion schemes and quality control circles (Cusumano, 1988; Schroeder and Robinson, 1991). Over the following twenty years, Japan became prominent in implementing continuous improvement (Schonberger, 1982a, pp., p52). They “set new standards of efficiency and started a revolution in manufacturing industry…” (Cusumano, 1988, p38). Therefore, the Japanese continuous improvement programme has a different track from the Western improvement programmes (Suzaki, 1993; Bartezzaghi, 1999; GRIPS, 2009) and includes some unique characteristics (i.e., continuous changes in small increments; based on two improvement practices; and requirement of shop floor management tools) (Ishikawa, 1980; Yasuda, 1989). The improvement programme plays an important role in Japanese economic development (Inoue, 1985), and has a Japanese name Kaizen (Imai, 1986).
The implementation of Japanese Kaizen
The Japanese are famous for implementing Kaizen (Schonberger, 1982a, pp., p52). This has helped Japanese manufacturing industry to achieve a high level of competitiveness over the past few decades (Hayes, 1981; Tamura, 2006; Aoki, 2008).
The traditional Western improvement programmes The Japanese Kaizen
Develop and implement by different people Proposals developed and implemented by
the same people
Management-led top-down process Management can either make suggestions individually or as a member of a QCC
One-off changes Incremental process
No clearly defined tools Based on PDCA cycle and statistical tools
Emphasis on suggestions for large improvements Focus on ideas various sizes of problems
Financial reward for proposers based upon improvement
outcomes Small financial reward mainly based on
Management approval needed before implementation Management approval only needed for
Management assessment is often delayed due to periodic
review processes Reviewed frequently in a timely manner
Table 2.2 Differences between the traditional Western improvement programmes and the Japanese Kaizen
The implementation of the Japanese Kaizen is different (Table 2.2) from its implementation in the West (Imai, 1986; Berger, 1997; Kerrin, 1999; Nilsson-Witell et al., 2005). Western improvement programmes generally emphasise improvement ideas for ‘one-off’ changes (Peter, 1990; Recht and Wilderom, 1998). They are management- led and top-down implementations (Graban and Swartz, 2012). The focus is usually on
large improvements which are often not implemented by the proposers (Nihon HR Ky?kai, 1995). The financial incentives are used to stimulate the participation (Yasuda, 1989), but they are commonly associated with the final improvement outcomes (Imai, 1986). The Western improvement programmes may suffer from low participation and low acceptance rates (Hull et al., 1988).
The Japanese Kaizen, on the other hand, is a “never ending” (Bond, 1999, p320), with a “top-down…and…bottom-up” framework (Bessant and Francis, 1999, p1109), “on- going improvement” (Imai, 1986, p3) “of a cumulative character” (Marin-Garcia et al., 2008, p57). It instils in everyone within the organisation (Peter, 1990; Terziovski and Sohal, 2000) a sense of responsibility for implementing improvements on a continuous basis (Monden, 1983), such as habitually providing both personal suggestions (Imai, 1986; Imai, 1997) and implementing group-based improvement activities (Handyside, 1997). Therefore, Japanese Kaizen is “not of the breakthrough variety, but incremental in nature” (Bessant and Caffyn, 1997, p10). It is “an organisational-wide process of focused and sustained incremental innovation” (Bessant and Francis, 1999, p1106); or “a habitual way of life in the organisation” (Handyside, 1997, p14) to develop both small and large improvement ideas. Management approval is only required for large improvement ideas, whilst small changes can be implemented without the prior approval of management (Crocker et al., 1984). Financial rewards are also used to boost participation (Imai, 1986; Kerrin, 1999).
Figure 2.12 The Japanese Kaizen, developed from the Japanese Human Relations Association (1997a)
As per the Japanese Human Relations Association (1997a), the implementation of Japanese Kaizen (Figure 2.12) includes two different improvement practices and is driven by a simple four-step (PDCA) method: (1) the identification of problems; (2) the
development of good solutions; (3) the implementation of those solutions; and (4) the standardisation of the improved results and prepare for future improvement (Recht and Wilderom, 1998; Masaki, 2006; Kupanhy, 2007; Toshiko and Shook, 2007).