Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kanban, Kaizen, and Yokoten


Kanban (かんばん(看板)?) (signboard or billboard in Japanese) is a scheduling system for lean and just-in-time (JIT) production. Kanban is a system to control the logistical chain from a production point of view, and is not an inventory control system. Kanban was developed by Taiichi Ohno, at Toyota, as a system to improve and maintain a high level of production. Kanban is one method to achieve JIT.

Kanban became an effective tool to support running a production system as a whole, and an excellent way to promote improvement. Problem areas are highlighted by reducing the number of kanban in circulation. One of the main benefits of kanban is to establish an upper limit to the work in progress inventory, avoiding overloading of the manufacturing system.


Kaizen (改善?), In Japanese for "good change". It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. By improving standardized activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste. Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality management teachers who visited the country. It has since spread throughout the world and is now being implemented in environments outside of business and productivity.

Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. Kaizen was originally introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986. Today Kaizen is recognized worldwide as an important pillar of an organization’s long-term competitive strategy. Kaizen is continuous improvement that is based on certain guiding principles:

  • Good processes bring good results
  • Go see for yourself to grasp the current situation
  • Speak with data, manage by facts
  • Take action to contain and correct root causes of problems
  • Work as a team
  • Kaizen is everybody’s business

One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. However this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements. While the majority of changes may be small, the greatest impact may be kaizens that are led by senior management as transformational projects, or by cross-functional teams as kaizen events.

Yokoten (Yoko ten kai):

In Japanese, Yoko - Horizontal, Lateral, Sideways; Ten kai - Develop, Deploy, Advance
Yokoten is a process for sharing learning laterally across an organization.

Yokoten means "horizontal deployment" and refers to the practice of copying good results of kaizen in one area to other areas. Yokoten applies more broadly to copying product design ideas as well as better practices in general. "Best practice sharing" comes close to the meaning of yokoten.

The corresponding image is one of ideas unfolding across an organization. Yokoten is horizontal and peer-to-peer, with the expectation that people go see for themselves and learn how another area did kaizen and then improve on those kaizen ideas in the application to their local problems. 

Kaizen must result in a standard, and yokoten means standards must be copied by others. However it is not enough to copy good kaizens as is, one must adapt and improve the learning for one's own process. Yokoten is not only to copy the physical best practice process but also the thinking that resulted in success and any background information (how it was achieved).
Within the 8 step practical problem solving process known as TBP (Toyota Business Practice) the yokoten activity happens in step 8.

1. Clarify the problem
2. Break down the problem
3. Set a target
4. Analyze the root cause
5. Develop countermeasures
6. See countermeasures through
7. Evaluate both results and process
8. Standardize successes, learn from failures