Kaizen is for Everyone, Everyday

It’s encouraging to see that as the Lean buzz expands from manufacturing to healthcare and other industries, some organizations and practitioners are beginning to recognize that there is more to Lean than kaizen events, “Lean tools” such as SMED, TPM, and kanban, or cookie-cutter production systems of the Demand Flow type.
What I’m talking about is what one of our clients coined as “Everyone, Everyday” kaizen. It’s what Toyota would call the Creative Idea Suggestion System. The suggestion system died an early death in the U.S.A. but is making a comeback as part of the fabric of Lean.
There are at least two recent books on this topic, The Idea Generator by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek, and Ideas Are Free by Alan G. Robinson. Both attempt to simplify and systematize the generation of small, local improvements by workers at all levels, or “everyone, everyday”.
Certainly this is perhaps the most powerful Lean tool over the long term. Witness Toyota and their 700,000 (seven with five zeros) implemented improvement ideas reported in 2002, nearly one per month per employee (in Japan). Similar or better numbers are reported for the North American employees.
As part of the Lean Transformation, and as part of continuing education, awareness, and training there is nothing like requiring employees to think of and implement one improvement idea per person per month.