How to Use the Kaizen Approach in Supply Chain Management



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By Jen McKenzie

The Kaizen approach is an improvement process, not a result or goal. The term “Kaizen” is Japanese, and essentially means change for the better or continuous improvement. This process has been gaining popularity in supply chain manufacturing and management, placing an emphasis on making smaller continuous changes in order to impact a larger variety of functions and processes to reduce or eliminate waste. 

The foundation of the approach also requires the involvement of everyone who is directly associated with the organization in order to guarantee the best results.

How Kaizen Was Developed

Initially, Kaizen was one of the most important improvements in automobile assembly lines. When Henry Ford initially set up the modern assembly line, there was much room for improvement but little interest in making those improvements, as noted by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota, who was tasked with setting up their new machine shops after World War II. 

Upon visiting Ford’s auto plants in America, Ohno found many areas of waste that could be improved, which became the founding principles of the Kaizen approach:

  • Elimination of waste
  • Reduction of costs
  • Standardization of processes
  • Increased productivity

With these things in mind, Ohno went back to Japan and began applying the Kaizen method to auto manufacturing processes at Toyota. It wasn’t long before other automakers started following suit.

Identifying Potential Supply Chain Manufacturing Waste

In the manufacturing environment, there are many areas that can create waste and cost the organization valuable time and profits. Any organization looking to improve their supply chain management needs to look at the most common areas of waste:

  • Process or product defects
  • Overproduction
  • Inventory risks
  • Transportation/logistics issues
  • Waiting time

These areas are found in every level of an organization, which is why the Kaizen method demands the involvement of everyonefrom upper management to production line workers to produce the best process improvements. This approach combines the collective resources, strategies, and innovations of an organization and focuses on each area of improvement in a step-by-step manner.

The supply chain is one overarching giant process that contains a variety of other small and large processes to keep things running effectively. 

With so many steps and processes involved, it is no wonder the Kaizen approach makes sense for this industry. Think of all of the steps in the lifecycle of your organization’s supply chain. That’s how many opportunities you have for process improvement and using the Kaizen approach ensures that you won’t miss a single one of them.

Kaizen Your Supply Chain 

A culture of continuous improvement is critical in today’s competitive supply chain industry. Kaizen offers a simple approach that allows you to focus on specific objectives at various levels of the organization, with a general goal of overall process improvement by implementing smaller improvements and optimizing the supply chain at every step along the way. 

The Kaizen approach certainly isn’t the only solution for improving supply chain management, but it has proven quite successful in this and many other industries. 

Jen McKenzie is an independent business consultant from New York. She writes extensively on business, education and human resource topics. When Jennifer is not at her desk working, you can usually find her hiking or taking a road trip with her two dogs. You can reach Jennifer @jenmcknzie.


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