Introduction to the Concept of Gemba Kaizen
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Gemba Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous improvement designed for enhancing processes and reducing waste.
Within a lean context, Gemba simply refers to the location where value is created, while Kaizen relates to improvements. However, the concept of Gemba Kaizen holds many more meanings than its literal translation.
According to the Kaizen Institute, an organisation which has embraced the concept is constantly striving to improve its processes, promotes discipline and standardisation, and believes the processes in place for solving problems are more valuable than the solutions themselves.
Masaaki Imai, founder of the institute, explained "Kaizen is a mindset. Although many lean practitioners have Kaizen in their toolbox, those who strive to live it each day are the people who are making a difference in people's lives."
Gemba Kaizen embraces the skills of a whole organisation, inviting and rewarding employee contributions and understanding even the smallest improvements will create greater value over time. The concept focuses on achieving continuous improvement through activities on the work floor.
The 'Five Ss'
One of the key concepts of Kaizen is the pursuit of operation excellence through a housekeeping technique known as the 'five Ss'. The Kaizen Institute recommends the 'five Ss' are a good place for an organisation to start when introducing the concept, as it allows all employees to get involved.
Seiri – or sort – is the first 'S'. This deals with the literal contents of the Gemba, removing any items which are excess to requirements to create a more streamlined working area.
Next comes seiton, meaning to set things in order, when a system is introduced giving every item its own place, meaning the tools necessary for work are easily accessible – reducing wasted time.
Seiso, translated to mean scrub, is the third 'S'. The stage does not simply relate to keeping a workplace in a clean, but also taking pride in keeping things in order.
Seiketsu is the next stage, which refers to the standardisation of processes throughout the workplace. "Visual management is an important aspect to facilitate easy understanding of these standards," the Kaizen Institute explained.
Once the first four steps have been completed, the company must then focus on shitsuki; sustaining the changes which have been made.
Benefits of Gemba Kaizen
Implementation of Gemba Kaizen principles within the workplace holds numerous benefits for organisations across a range of sectors, including healthcare – an industry which is facing a growing number of pressures.
One organisation which has reaped these rewards is Akron Children's Hospital in the US, which was recently presented with the Process Excellence's award for the Best Process Improvement Project Under 90 Days.
The focus of the project was MRI scheduling, which was targeted due to excessively-high patient waiting times and no improvements in the number exams taking place following the purchase of a second MRI machine.
Staff from the relevant departments of the hospital were brought together on a two-day course focusing on addressing the problem. From the exercise a number of changes came about, including changing the master schedule and the insurance authorisation process, as well as standardising work instructions.
Doug Dulin, senior director for the hospital's Center for Operations Excellence, said "Before the kaizen, the hospital was doing about 86 MRIs per week. Now, on average, we are doing 112.
"That is good news for our patients and the physicians who are waiting on the results of those tests. Instead of waiting 25 days for an uncomplicated exam, families can now schedule same-day appointments."
The hospital is also thought to have added $1.2 million (£748,000) to its bottom line after implementing the changes.
Other sectors well placed to feel the benefits of Kaizen include financial services, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages and the public sector.