Monday, August 28, 2006

Kaizen and the Supply Chain

Kaizen is a Japanese term which means "change for the better." A company that practices kaizen is making small changes for the better on an ongoing basis- this is commonly called continuous improvement. Over the past 15 to 20 years, kaizen has become synonymous with the kaizen event, a focused improvement "blitz" in which a team works to improve (i.e., kaizen) a process. These are actually quite different. While the kaizen event is a still a very useful tool for improving points in a value stream, the term "kaizen" refers to a way of thinking, not a single tool.

Practicing kaizen means eliminating waste. Toyota's Taichi Ohno identified the "seven wastes" of manufacturing as:
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Processing
  • Motion
  • Inventory
  • Transportation
  • Defects

If a company is truly practicing kaizen, every employee from the shop floor worker to the CEO is working to eliminate waste on a daily basis.

But how do we approach kaizen for an entire supply chain? If within a single organization, we are asking each employee to think lean and to eliminate waste, then within the supply chain we must ask each organization to do the same. However, simply performing kaizen within the individual companies comprising a supply chain is not sufficient. Not only must we ask them to begin practicing kaizen within their four walls, we must work on supply chain improvement as a whole. This is because there are often wastes within a supply chain that we can only see when we consider the entire supply chain rather than simply one organization or process within it.

So, we've determined that we need to kaizen both the supply chain as a whole as well as the individual organizations and processes within it. What are the tools that help us accomplish this?

1. Value Stream Mapping. Value stream mapping helps us to see the entire picture and identify changes (kaizen) that will improve the supply chain as a whole. Through VSM, we understand the sources of waste created within material and information flows.

2. Supplier Associations. Supplier associations help improve communication and knowledge across a supply chain, thus enabling kaizen throughout the supply chain.

3. Kaizen Events. Kaizen events can help us implement improvements to particular points within the value stream.

4. Other Kaizen/Lean Tools. All of the traditional lean tools such as Standardized Work, One Piece Flow Cells, Kanban/Pull, Visual Controls, Quick Changeover/Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), 5S, Total Productive Maintenance, and others can help improve a supply chain.

Each of the above works together to kaizen an entire supply chain.

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