Two news stories highlight conflicting interpretations of Kaizen

Dateline 3/16/2012, Marion, Ill: Aisin recognized with top achiever award. This article recounts how “Aisin Manufacturing Illinois of Marion was recently recognized for their success among all Aisin operations in North America, as the top achiever in the 1-person/1-kaizen program. The 1-person/1-kaizen program is a national program that allows Aisin team members the opportunity to submit and implement ideas for improvement in the areas of safety, quality, cost, delivery or environmental.” In other words, it is an individual suggestion system.

Dateline 3/19/2012, Anoka County, MN: County taking Lean approach to government. The approach to improve the processing of paternity cases was designed by outside consultants, Innovation Process Design, LLC. Their were implemented “using the Kaizen process.” Since recommendations from outside consultants couldn’t possibly be implemented by individual employee suggestions, “Kaizen” obviously does not have the same meaning as in the Aisin story. Drilling through from the article, you reach a government website from the EPA, which defines Kaizens as “rapid improvement processes,” organized in the form of events.

That Kaizen should mean something so radically different in the Japan and the US would not be a problem if the success of the original, Japanese Kaizen were not used to promote the made-in-the-USA Kaizen events. One particularly unfortunate consequence is the quasi-total absence of Kaizen activity in the original senses in US factories that are not Japanese transplants.