Lean, Six Sigma™ and
Kaizen Compared - Raphael L.
This article represents a major revision of an earlier article titled, Six
Sigma™ and Kaizen Compared - Part I. It includes new content and corrects
errors that appeared in the earlier versions.
A comparison of Six Sigma™ and Kaizen is a complicated task for several
reasons. First, each term has more than one meaning. Second, there are two different
levels at which to compare Six Sigma™ and Kaizen. You can compare them
at the level of making an improvement to a business process (the event or project
level) or at the level of a total approach to improving the success of a business.
Third, there are many dimensions on which you can compare these approaches—e.g.,
their respective origins and the various meanings each term has, their scopes
of application, the purposes each approach accomplishes, the benefits each produces,
etc. Fourth, there is a difference between what people who promote these approaches
say and what actually happens in practice. Which do you use to make your comparison?
In this article, I will share what my research has uncovered about the origins
of Six Sigma™ and Kaizen, the various meanings of each term, and the scope
each approach claims. I will begin, however, with a review of the Quality Model,
since both these methods emerged as implementations of the Quality Model or
as instruments for accomplishing one or more of its goals. As to the issue of
what the proponents say versus what happens in fact, I will try to share that
within each section of the comparison, as best I can.
The Quality Model
The Quality Model is a comprehensive approach for conducting commerce
and realizing business success. It defines the ultimate purpose of commerce
as maximizing the satisfaction of customer needs and wishes in ways that provide
“better living for him in the future” (Deming, 1982a, p. 175). Businesses
succeed to the degree that they satisfy their customers’ real requirements
and continuously improve in achieving this result. Methods and approaches such
as Statistical Process Control [SPC] and Statistical Quality Control [SQC];
Quality Planning, Implementation, and Improvement (Juran Trilogy); Total Quality
Management [TQM], Lean, and Six Sigma™ are rooted in the Quality Model.
The construct of continuous improvement (CI) as a business strategy has its
origins in the Quality model, as has the application of problem solving methods
(e.g., Plan, Do, Study Act [PDSA], A3, DMAIC) to making improvements. To the
degree these various expressions of the Quality model remain true to their origins,
they build on and serve a core set of principles that, when applied, achieve
Quality’s goal and lead a company to high performance. Four key principles
reveal the foundations of the Quality Model.1
These principles are:
||The goal every business must achieve is to enable its customers
to succeed in whatever pursuit they apply its offering.
||Corollary. Customers use your business’s
offering to accomplish tasks important to them. The greater the success
your offering enables your customers to achieve with respect to these tasks,
the more satisfied they become and the more likely they are to engage in
future commerce with you.
||The basic input required for business success is an accurate
understanding of the customers’ real requirements.
||Corollary. Real requirements are features of your offering
that must be present for the customer to succeed and be delighted with it.
The more detailed and complete your understanding of your customer’s
uses of your offering, the contexts within which the customer uses it, and
the customer’s capabilities in using it—the more likely your
offering will delight the customer and enable his or her success.
||The engine of a business’s success is the full involvement
of its people in problem solving ever better ways to deliver customers what
they judge is valuable.
||Corollary. People developing better ways to accomplish
the business’s purpose is the driving force behind its success. The
more teamed, aligned, and capable a business’s workforce is in thinking
through better ways to understand and satisfy customer requirements, the
more powerful the business becomes in delivering value. Also, the company
is more likely to sustain its success across the challenges the future presents.
||The measure of success is the customer’s satisfaction
with your business’s product and service offerings and your demonstration
of continuous improvement in understanding and productively satisfying each
customer’s real needs. As Deming wrote in the fifth of his fourteen
points, a business must “improve constantly and forever” (Deming,
Exhibit 1 depicts the core elements of the Quality approach to commerce.
Various quality-model thinkers have added content to the model they feel should
be part of its core principles—e.g., that quality must be managed and
cannot be allowed to happen on its own. We do not include these as basic principles
of the quality model because they are part of every Western model for success.
To say that quality must be managed and cannot be allowed to happen on its own
is simply to say that you must focus on your goals and work systematically to
achieve them. This may be a more Western than Eastern concept, but, at least
within a Western cultural view, it applies to all endeavors in life. On the
other hand, to assert that your driving purpose as a business must be “satisfying
the customers’ real requirements” says something that is not commonly
held. The dominant commercial model operates from a basis of self-interest and
asserts that the purpose of every business is to maximize the production of
profits for its owners. “Making profits” and “satisfying customers”
are not equivalent. As Deming and others have clarified, if I drive toward one,
I may or may not drive toward the other or realize it to the same degree. For
example, one way companies have succeeded in making huge profits and becoming
giants in their industry is by restricting their customers’ access to
alternative products or services (e.g., IBM in the 1960s and 1970s and Microsoft
from its inception to at least the early 2000s). IBM built in proprietary components
to its “big iron” computers that forced customers to return to it
for hardware upgrades and software. Microsoft required computer vendors to pay
it for every machine they built, whether or not they loaded it with Microsoft’s
operating system. If they did not, they could not load MS DOS on any of their
machines. Consequently, manufactures only loaded MS DOS since adding any other
operating system would increase their costs. These market controlling methods,
as well as others each company employed, are antithetical to the principles
of the Quality model; nonetheless, many companies seek to use them and many
more wish they could.
The Origins of the Quality Model
One of its earliest contributors to the emergence of the Quality model was
Walter Shewhart. He developed the method of statistical quality control while
working at Bell Laboratories in the late 1920’s. This method provides
a rational basis for understanding variability in outputs and guidance for how
one reduces it. Shewhart reported his thinking and methods in his journal articles
and his book, “Economic Control of Quality of Manufactured Product”
(Shewhart, 1931). W. Edwards Deming, who held a doctoral degree in Physics from
Yale University, was introduced to Shewhart while working at the Department
of Agriculture. Deming was responsible for courses in math and statistics at
the Graduate School of the USDA. He (Deming) had studied statistics with the
eminent British statistician Ronald Fisher and sought out other scholars in
the field. He was especially impressed by the significance of Shewhart’s
formulations. Both men worked together as colleagues and conducted courses over
several years on measuring and controlling variation in work processes in the
In 1938, Deming took a position at the U.S. Census Bureau, to advise them on
the application of sampling methods to the completion of the 1940 census. It
was in 1940 that the Bureau shifted its procedure from a complete count to a
sampling method. Deming had developed a reputation for expertise in sampling
theory and practice while at Agriculture Department. Upon completion of the
1940 census, Deming began to introduce Statistical Quality Control (SQC) into
industrial operations. In 1941, he and two other experts began teaching SQC
to inspectors and engineers. Deming suggested to Stanford University that it
offer a series of 10-day courses instructing engineers, inspectors, purchasing
managers, and others in these ideas. The initiative ultimately trained 31,000
professionals. While it raised consciousness about quality and contributed to
the emergence of American Society of Statistical Quality Control, Deming later
judged that his intent of affecting the practices of businesses had failed.
Deming writes, “Brilliant applications burned, sputtered, fizzled, and
died out” (Deming, 1982, p.101). A major reason he identified for the
failure was that “there was no structure to teach management their responsibilities”
(ibid, p. 102) and therefore no way to ensure that the focus on quality became
pervasive and persistent within each company. This experience resulted in a
learning that stimulated Deming’s development of his 14 management points
and guided his future efforts to improve business success.
The development of the Quality movement transferred to Japan in “1946
with the U.S. Occupation Force's mission to revive and restructure Japan's communications
equipment industry. General Douglas Mac Arthur was committed to public education
through radio. Homer Sarasohn was recruited to spearhead the effort by repairing
and installing equipment, making materials and parts available, restarting factories,
establishing the equipment test laboratory (ETL), and setting rigid quality
standards for products. Sarasohn recommended individuals for company presidencies,
like Koji Kobayashi of NEC, and he established education for Japan's top executives
in the management of quality. Furthermore, upon Sarasohn's return to the United
States, he recommended W. Edwards Deming to provide a seminar in Japan on statistical
quality control (SQC)” (Pecht and Boulton, 1995).
When Deming began his lectures in Japan in 1950, he looked out once more at
‘the wrong audience’ (Walton, 1986). While earnest in their intent
to learn, the attendees had no decision-making power in their companies. Thus,
when he was asked to extend his teaching on quality and process control in Japan,
he requested to meet with the association of Japanese chief executives, the
Keidanren. This Ichiro Ishihara arranged for him. These chief executives
became Deming’s major audience and an early version of Deming’s
14 management points, one of the major guiding components of the Quality model,
was the focus of his teaching. Deming’s strategy for teaching the Quality
model was absolutely consistent with his personal learning about the role of
management in transforming a business from the traditional approach to the Quality
approach to commerce. In essence, without a transformation in leadership there
will be no transformation of the business to the Quality model.
While speaking about Deming's thinking, many people focus singularly on his
advancement of statistical methods that monitored variation within processes
and outputs and enabled its description and reduction (e.g., process control
charts, Pareto charts, histograms, cause-effects diagrams). They mention that
he identified four types of variability: common, special or assignable cause;
tampering; and structural (Joiner and Gaudard, 1990). They report Deming’s
edict that every manager must understand variability and drive it out of all
processes. Common variability was random and inherent in the processes as designed
and required redesign of the system to eliminate it. Special cause variation
was assignable to causes through investigation. Therefore, when detected, it
should be investigated immediately and, when its source(s) understood, eliminated.
Both SPC and Statistical Quality Control (SQC) embody this emphasis on variation
and its diagnosis and elimination. To my knowledge, all the “event-level”
tools used in what is now termed “Six Sigma™” were taken from
SPC and SQC. While the understanding of variation and the pursuit of its elimination
were essential elements in Deming’s model, the reduction of Deming’s
contribution to advancing statistical quality control methods and the pursuit
of reducing variation is a travesty. Deming did much more than focus on variation
and tools for eliminating it. Indeed, the elimination of variation was never
the end result that Quality pursued. It was, instead, the minimization
of the loss function. The driving intent of continuous improvement
is to reduce the loss function in every operation to zero (Deming, 1982a, p.
141).2 This means
optimizing every process’s capability by aligning exactly its typical
performance with that needed to ensure maximum customer value and eliminating
all variability in realizing that target performance. This effort results in
offerings that customers “will boast about” (Deming, 1982a, p. 87).
The reputation such an outcome creates for a company attracts new customers
and expands the business’s market share. With the lower cost a zero loss
function delivers, productivity is elevated. Joined with expanding sales, these
two outcomes combine to increase profitability, sustain employment, expand jobs,
and produce opportunities for advancement for all employees. The Quality model
pursues explicitly all of these outcomes. Deming makes clear that realizing
the model’s primary end—maximizing the quality delivered to customers—is
to be realized in a way that benefits all stakeholders inclusively.
“The aim proposed here for any organization is for everybody to gain—stockholders,
employees, suppliers, customers, community, the environment” (Deming,
2000, p. 51). Thus, the thinking Deming taught to Japanese chief executives
addressed a broad perspective that encompassed a view of the worker, how management
should involve workers in the business, the purpose commerce should serve, the
inclusiveness of benefits it should deliver to all stakeholders, the role of
management including its responsibilities and accountabilities, the breath of
people who constitute the stakeholders to a business and the business’s
responsibility to them, the necessity of managing from a system’s perspective,
the critical importance of developing and using knowledge in management, and
the necessity of continuously improving every business product and service and
its methods for delivering them.
Deming’s instruction played a pivotal role in enabling the resurrection
of Japanese industry to its place of worldwide importance in the post World
War II era. Indeed, Japan as a nation recognized Deming's contributions to the
resurrection of their industry by extending to him the Second Order Medal of
the Sacred Treasure. Deming’s contributions specifically to the Toyota
Motor Corporation were personally acknowledged and appreciated by Dr. Shoichiro
Toyoda, the son of the founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation and its chairman
from 1992–1999. “Everyday I think about what he [Deming] meant to
us,” said Dr. Toyoda, “Deming is the core of our management”
(Toyoda, 1988). As you probably know, the Toyota Production System is often
cited as a foundation for the lean enterprise model.
Following Deming’s return to the United States, there was no interest
in him or his teachings. Walton writes that “Thirty years after he first
taught the Japanese his methods, Dr. Deming was ‘discovered’ in
America.” “He was catapulted into national prominence” by
an NBC documentary produced by an initially skeptical Clare Crawford-Mason.
After a careful fact-checking to verify Deming’s role in the resurrection
of Japanese industry, she produced the documentary, “If Japan Can ...
Why Can't We?” “It was one of the most successful documentaries
in television history” (Walton, 1986, pp. 17–19). Soon after, he
published his thinking in a series of books. The growing success of Japanese
industry and Deming’s acknowledged role in enabling that success—joined
with the decline of US industry—brought him requests for assistance from
many American companies. For a full presentation of Deming’s Quality approach
to commerce, see Deming
Revisited: The Real Quality Model for Commerce.
Thus far, we can make these points.
- The purpose of commerce as defined by the Quality model is to maximize
the delivery of value to customers by providing products and services that
deliver “better living for him in the future.” This end, the model
dictates, must be realized in a way that ensures that all stakeholders benefit.
This means “stockholders, employees, suppliers, customers, community,
- The basic principles of the Quality Model maintain that businesses succeed
to the degree that they understand their customers' real requirements and
delivers offerings that customers “will boast about” both now
and in the future. To achieve this end, businesses must fully involve their
people in applying problem-solving methods to continuously improve both their
understanding of their customers and their methods and results in delivering
value to them.
- The thinking Deming taught to Japanese chief executives addressed a broad
perspective that encompassed a view of the worker, how management should involve
workers in the business, the purpose commerce should serve, the inclusiveness
of benefits it should deliver to all stakeholders, the role of management
including its responsibilities and accountabilities, the breath of people
who constitute the stakeholders to a business and the business’s responsibility
to them, the necessity of managing from a system’s perspective, the
critical importance of developing and using knowledge in management, and the
necessity of continuously improving every business product and service and
its methods for delivering them.
Quality's Progeny: Lean and
Both the Lean Enterprise3
model and Six Sigma™ refer to comprehensive business-wide approaches for
achieving business success. Based on an historical analysis and an analysis
of each of these systems, it is clear that both derive from the Quality Model.
Lean's Emergence and Its Extension of the Quality Model
James Womack and his colleagues described the Lean manufacturing model by studying
“a new set of ideas pioneered by Japanese companies” (Womack, Jones,
& Roos, 1991, p. 3) that underpinned the superior achievement of these companies
as compared to other automotive manufacturers around the world. The study was
implemented in 1985 by the International Motor Vehicle Program located in the
Center for Technology, Policy, and Industrial Development at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT). Its goal was to enable automobile manufacturers
worldwide to advance the prosperity of their host countries and improve the
work life of industry employees by transferring knowledge of the more competitive
approaches implemented by Japanese automotive manufacturers. The study lasted
five years, had 36 sponsoring governmental and industry organizations, produced
116 scholarly publications, and culminated in the publication of The Machine
That Changed the World (Womack, Jones, & Roos, 1991). The book introduced
the term “Lean production” to characterize their manufacturing strategy
and contrasted it with “mass production,” which was the norm in
North America and Europe. While the study the book was based on investigated
all 11 Japanese automobile manufactures, one—the Toyota Motor Company—emerged
as the best representative of the competitively superior approaches employed
by Japanese automakers. Over the next decade and half, the “Lean production”
model became tightly identified with Toyota’s implementation of what it
called the Toyota Production System (TPS). The Lean model was refined and elaborated
into “Lean thinking” (Womack & Jones, 2003).
Prior to the MIT study, Masaaki Imai described a very similar approach to
creating business success in his book, Kaizen The Key to Japan’s Competitive
Success (Imai, 1986). He too derived his description from his study of
Japanese industry and especially the workings of the Toyota Motor Company. He
chose the term Kaizen to label this model as it represented to him the essence
of the spirit that drove the approach—the commitment to never ending improvement.
Both authors Imai and Womack have come to recognize that the contents of the
model they each describe did not originate in Japan, although there are elements
of it that have specific historical roots in Japanese history. Imai recognized
and acknowledge the contribution of the Training Within Industry programs developed
under the War Manpower Commission to the emergence of the process improvement
tool, also labeled kaizen,4
that was employed in Japan and to implementing a shift in management–employee
relations (Imai, 1999). He also recognized
in a highly limited way the contribution of Deming by referencing the introduction
of statistical quality control and the repeated application of Plan, Do, Study,
and ACT (PDSA) as a means for developing learning and improving business activities.
Womack even more so recognized the early contributions of American engineers
and industrialists including Frederick Taylor, Frank Gilbreth, Henry Ford, and
others to the foundations of the lean enterprise model. Indeed, the notions
of standardized work have their origins in Taylor. The use of time and motion
studies to improve processes by identifying and eliminating waste derived from
Gilbreth. The concept and demonstration of flow in a product system and even
the essence of the lean tool 5S originates in the work of Ford (Roll, 2005).
Others made similar contributions. One example is the work of Alfred Warren
whose work in Japan began in 1925. His documented guidance to the Tooshiba Horikawacho
Factory regarding factory organization and the design of processes incorporated
the concepts of one piece flow, balanced lines, cross-functional assignments,
and zero work-in-progress inventory (Odaka, 2001). All of these authors were
carefully studied by the Japanese and their ideas were integrated into their
approach to industry.
But singularly unrecognized—given the breath and depth of his contribution—was
the contents and thinking embedded in the Deming’s Quality model. As stated
earlier, it was to the leaders of Japanese industry—including the heads
of its automotive companies—that W. Edwards Deming directed his instruction
in the early 1950s before the emergence of practices that were placed under
the umbrella concepts of “Kaizen” by Imai or “Lean production”
by Womack. At that time, Japanese industry was in ruin. What Japanese companies
produced was viewed as inferior to what was produced elsewhere in the world.
Across Japanese industry, management’s relationship with its workers was
ending its most recent period of extreme turbulence as workers sought redress
for long-standing grievances concerning their treatment in the workplace and
for the extreme suffering they endured after 1945. Contrary to popular notions,
worker strife was not new to Japan. In the 1920s, there were over 250 major
strikes. Companies responded by creating enterprise unions. These were structured
based on company affiliation and essentially controlled by the employer (Smith,
2003). The management style implemented in Japan was essentially command and
control in character. It followed the teachings of Taylor whose work, Scientific
Management, was first translated into Japanese in 1912. It had become a
core element in the training of Japanese management from that point forward—at
least until the emergence of Deming. Beginning in 1938, Japan’s “military
dictatorship made all unions dissolve into the Industrial Patriotic Society,
abbreviated in Japanese as Sanpo” (Smith, 1998, p. 16). After the War,
Sanpo was dissolved and Japanese workers once again began to organize. Initially,
the organizing by workers was supported by the U.S. Occupying Authority but,
later, the Supreme Commander of Allies in the Pacific (SCAP) acted viciously
to thwart worker actions (“the reverse course”) (Smith, 1998).
Into this decay and turmoil Deming stepped.5
He offered the leaders of Japanese industry a solution to their problems and
a promise. The solution was his Quality approach to commerce. The promise was
if they implemented the model faithfully, Japanese industry would emerge as
world leaders in industry. He told them, “they would capture markets the
world over in five years” (Walton, 1986, p. 14). As history records, Japan
beat that promise. By 1955, buyers the world over sought out Japanese products.
The Lean Enterprise model (as well as Imai’s earlier representation of
Japanese industry’s approach) incorporates all elements of the Quality
Model, as these were central to the Japanese resurrection of its manufacturing
industries, including the automotive industry that MIT studied. Thus, in the
lean model, the focus of business is on understanding and satisfying the real
requirements of customers. It does this by engaging and involving all contributors
in continuously discovering and implementing products and services that better
satisfy customer values using processes that are progressively waste free. It
measures its success and uses this information along with its deepening understanding
of the customers it serves to continuously improve its outcomes.
Also like the Quality Model, Lean recognizes that a business must be understood
as a system. It largely incorporates the Quality Model’s broad definition
of the members of that system. These members include customers, suppliers, the
communities within which the business operates and all other parties who either
affect the business’s activities or are affected by its activities. It
incorporates the stricture that the maximum satisfaction of customer values
must be realized in a way the benefits all stakeholder inclusively. All the
members of this “extended value stream”—the graphic depiction
of which Deming reports as first appearing in Japan in 1950 (Deming, 2000, p.
58)—must be engaged in applying Lean thinking to their activities in order
to fully root out waste and maximize the delivery of value for its customers.
Lean's perspective of a business's stakeholders, therefore, aligns with that
described by Deming. Indeed, Deming’s recommended relationship between
the business and its suppliers is fully represented in the lean model. So too
Lean incorporates in its own language the Quality model’s guidance for
realizing operational success (Exhibit 2). That guidance begins with understanding
customers values, builds into all products and services and their implementing
processes features that satisfy customer values, stabilizes (standardizes) all
work processes, optimizes them by eliminating waste and better tuning their
outputs to match customer values, and then continuously improves all activities
of the business and deepens the business’s understanding of its customers
(Vitalo, 2012). He even includes mapping each value stream6
as a prior step.
2. The Origins of 6S
Womack and His Associates’
- Involve all contributors in understanding customer values.
- Design quality into every offering and process.
- Make every process stable.
- Optimize every process’s capability by reducing its loss function.
- Improve constantly and forever every activity the enterprise implements
and each of its offerings.
- Engage employees in implementing the lean enterprise.
- Define value from the customer’s perspective.
- Map the value stream.
- Establish flow.
- Establish pull.
- Strive for perfection.
As regards management responsibilities and conduct, both Imai’s description
of the cooperative nature of management–employee relations and Lean’s
description (Womack & Jones, 2003; Liker, 2011) rest fully on the guidance
embedded in Deming’s 14 management points. This guidance is rationalized
by the knowledge Deming documents in his system of profound knowledge.
Lean does add several elements to the basic tenets of the Quality Model. For
example, Lean operationalizes the meaning of what constitutes a customer value
as any feature of a product or service offering for which a well-informed and
reasonable customer is willing to pay. It also operationalizes the definition
of waste as any business activity that does not materially change a product
or service output in a way for which a well-informed and reasonable customer
is willing to pay. It formalizes the categories of waste (hazard, inspection,
interruption, inventory, motion, rework, search, setup, travel/transport, unnecessary
processing, and wait) and provides a methodology for waste detection (the gemba
walk through, process and machine observation). It introduces the concept of
“pull.” Pull means that customer demand triggers the flow of value-adding
activities. A pull system, therefore, operates in reverse. A customer order
(or shipped product) cascades a signal backwards through the value stream, triggering
production and replenishment4 activity as it proceeds. This approach contrasts
with the typical “push” approach to production and replenishment
in non-service industries.7
With the push approach, activity is driven by targets and schedules that are
based on factors such as machine sizing, changeover times, and supply availability.
At best, these factors are only partially related to customer demand. Finally,
companies implementing lean thinking over time have created tools and methods
for enhancing quality and eliminating waste (e.g., Total Productive Maintenance
[TPM], Quick Change, Kaizen, Kanban systems, Heijunka box).
Six Sigma™ Origins
Six Sigma™, as a business-level strategy, is a “re-labeling”
of the approach used by Motorola, Inc. to implement the Quality Model during
the 1980’s. As Ramias reports with regard to Six Sigma's origins, "Truth
is, the efforts to improve quality through use of statistics went back to the
early 1980s, and the creation of Six Sigma as a program was essentially a repackaging
of tools and methods going all the way back to Deming." (Ramias, 2005,
page 2). More precisely, Motorola's approach was most associated with Joseph
M. Juran, a Quality pioneer and contemporary of Deming. Like Deming, his approach
to achieving competitive success focused on maximizing quality as defined by
the customer and integrated both the measurement-oriented Quality methods of
SPC and SQC with team-oriented improvement efforts like Quality Circles, team
problem solving, and other involving methods. Also like Deming, he advocated
a business-level quality management component as well as event-level improvement
methods. For the business level, Juran developed what was labeled the Juran
Trilogy—Quality Planning, Quality Control, and Quality Improvement. These
were systematic processes to ensure that the outputs and operations of every
value stream in the business added value as defined by the customer (Quality
Planning), that every system was stable in its delivery of value (Quality Control),
and that the business as a whole continuously improved (Quality Improvement).
The event-level improvement activities flowed out of implementing Quality Control
and Quality Improvement efforts. Improvement activities incorporated measurement
and quantitative analysis elements that were pioneered and developed in SPC
and SQC. They also included problem solving activities that relied on the knowledge
that workers developed through their experience of doing the work and their
observations of how current methods succeeded and failed (Pande, Newman, and
Cavanagh, 2002). In all regards, Juran’s thinking and methods aligned
fully with Deming’s teaching, except perhaps in the area of psychology
(Clements, 2011). Juran maintained that people could be motivated through incentives
to implement the Quality model. Deming maintained that the drive to learn and
excel was intrinsic to people and, while many have had it stultified by life
experiences, that intrinsic striving must be present in those implementing the
Quality model (Vitalo, 2012).
Motorola's initial focus was on product quality and the elimination of defects.
Beginning in 1986, it began to focus on process capability largely due to the
writing and influence of Bill Smith, a Motorola reliability engineer. When Bill
Smith gave birth to the term six sigma, the term was a target for performance
and not Motorola’s approach to reaching that performance. Smith was attempting
to focus attention on creating processes that consistently produced outputs
to specification. A six sigma8
process was one that produced less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities
(Pande, et al., 2002; page 179). In 1987, Motorola's total approach to quality
became rebadged as Six Sigma. In 1991, the term was trademarked. Mikel Harry,
who commercialized Six Sigma as a business improvement offering, was initially
a consultant with Motorola, then an engineer at Motorola, and finally the head
of its Six Sigma Academy.
While it is popular to credit Six Sigma with billions of dollars in savings
and Motorola's winning of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1988,
in fact, it appears to have had little contribution to these achievements. According
to Ramias (2005), "Motorola won the Baldrige Award not because of its formal
Six Sigma program that kicked off in 1987 but because it had made truly awesome
improvements in both quality and cycle time over the preceding 8 years. Those
achievements were a result of all the TQM and BPI [the business process improvement
method developed by Rummler] efforts going on, and they were not’t viewed
as a single comprehensive program called 'Six Sigma' or anything else…except
in hindsight" (2005, page 2). In fact, “As a formal program, Six
Sigma was barely in place when the Baldrige Award was obtained” (2005,
page 2). For further clarification of Six Sigma's origins and contributions,
see The Mists of Six Sigma™
Six Sigma™, as a business process improvement method, is simply a problem
solving strategy theoretically rooted in the measurement of process variability
and guided by customer requirements. In fact all quality improvement methods—including
Kaizen, A3, PDSA—are problem solving methods. They all use the same backbone
process: 1. Describe the problem, 2. Analyze it root causes, 3. Develop ways
to eliminate causes, 4. Implement solutions, and 5. Measure success. The last
step, MEasure success, usually includes extracting learning and applying it
to future improvement efforts. In support of Six Sigma™'s commercialization,
a new set of terms were developed to express this process—Define, Measure,
Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC). In fact, DMAIC is a rather nifty way
to capture the basic problem solving process—but, it adds nothing except
"niftiest" to solving problems. More importantly, in its commercialized
version, Six Sigma™ deviates from the Quality model that produced Motorola's
success in several important ways. These include shifting the focus of improvement
from quality to productivity and localizing improvement efforts in a small group
of employees (Black, Green, and White belts) differentiated by status from all
other employees rather than broadcasting the uncovering and making of improvements
to include all employees, among others (Quality Digest, 2008; 2008a).
With regard to the first deviation, Deming held that if you focus on quality
then efficiency will follow but that if you focus on efficiency,
quality usually does
not follow. As to the second, Six Sigma's belt approach returns to the days
of Taylorism in the sense that a specialized group is established that segregates
learning to a few and wastes the immensely greater opportunities for improvement
that the many (all employees) can provide.
Thus far, we can make these points.
- Both the Lean Enterprise model and Six Sigma™ are derivatives of
the Quality Model for achieving success in business.
- The Lean Enterprise model is a comprehensive, company-wide approach to conducting
commerce. It was formulated based on systematic research of the practices
employed by superior performing automotive manufacturers during the 1980s.
While the study pool included all 11 Japanese automakers, the Toyota Motor
Company specifically seemed to best represent the practices that were uncovered
as accounting for the superior performance of these companies. The thinking
incorporated by these companies—especially as regards the singular importance
of maximizing the delivery of value to customers as judged by the customers
(Deming’s meaning of “quality”), the involvement of all
employees in continuously improving every business activity, the role of management
in leading the initiative, the concept of the value stream and the importance
of systems thinking and managing the business as a system, the breath of stakeholders
to a business and its responsibility to each, the concept of the extended
value stream and the necessity of its commitment to implementing lean for
lean enterprise to success, the necessity of management operating from a base
of knowledge in guiding the enterprise, and essentially every other foundational
element of the lean model—all derive from Deming's instruction of the
heads of Japanese companies during the early 1950s. It became incorporated
in the approach Toyota advanced and termed the Toyota Production System (TPS).
- Within the lean enterprise model there are tools and methods for implementing
local improvements in outputs, processes, and workplaces (e.g., TPM, kaizen,
quick change, 5 or 6S). But, these tools are to be applied in the context
of implementing the business-wide strategy and not just as cost reduction
or productivity enhancing activities.
- Six Sigma™ refers both to a business-wide strategy for implementing
a flawed version of the Quality Model (as judged from Deming’s perspective)
and to the limited activity of improving the reliability of work processes
in satisfying business defined requirements.
- Six Sigma™ is a re-labeling of the approach used by Motorola Inc.
during the 1980’s for implementing the Quality Model business-wide.
That approach was an amalgam of the thinking of Deming, Juran, and Crosby
but perhaps most identified with the work of Juran. As a comprehensive approach
to creating success, it used Juran's Trilogy at the planning level. For its
measurement-focused improvement activities, it used SPC and SQC. For its team
problems solving, it borrowed methods from Quality Circles and Crosby’s
team problem solving. Six Sigma's modifications to this approach shifted the
focus to productivity or efficiency and segregated the leading of improvements
efforts to a separate group of employees who are provided with status symbols
(belts) that mark them as apart from all other employees.
- At the business process improvement level, Six Sigma™ emphasizes
the measurement and quantitative analysis elements that were previously pioneered
and developed in SPC and SQC. Its backbone methodology—DMAIC—is
the same as every other quality improvement tool—i.e., the basic process
of problem solving. Just as Six Sigma rebadges total quality management at
the business-level, DMAIC rebadges problem solving at the project level.
Kaizen’s Origins and Scope
Kaizen (pronounced ki-zen) is a Japanese word constructed from two ideographs,
the first of which represents change and the second goodness or virtue. Kaizen
is commonly used to indicate the progressive long-term betterment of something
or someone (continuous improvement) as in the phrase Seikatsu o Kaizen suru
which means to “better one’s life.” The term Kaizen is used
in three ways. The first use is consistent with its literal meaning. The second
use is as a company-wide management program that establishes a culture focused
on continuous improvement of all processes and workplaces through the elimination
of waste. The third use is as the label for a specific method for improving
work processes and workplaces by the identification and elimination of waste.
A Principle of Conduct—Striving for Perfection
In its first use, Kaizen means the pursuit of perfection in all one does.
In this use, the term is applicable across the areas of one’s life and
represents a guiding ethic for conducting a life.
A Management Approach That Creates Business Success
In this second use, Kaizen represents the element of continuous improvement
that is a fundamental part of the Quality Model for leading a company to commercial
success. In a business context, it is expressed in all activities, personal
and teamed, that develop and use learning to make processes better at satisfying
customer requirements. In this use, Kaizen has its origins in the fifth of W.
Edwards Deming’s 14 management points: “Improve constantly and forever
the system of production and service” (Deming, 1982, p. 49). It is commonly
expressed as “continuous improvement.” Deming represented continuous
improvement as the repeated application of the cycle of Plan, Do, Study, Act
(PDSA) to all business activities in the pursuit of making them ever better
in delivering value to customers. Its use as a business strategy inside the
United States is usually incorporated under the adoption of Deming’s Quality
model (e.g., as part of Total Quality Management) or as an element within the
Lean Enterprise model described by Womack and his associates (Womack, Jones,
and Roos, 1991; Womack and Jones, 2003). Outside the United States, the term
Kaizen, on its own, more frequently refers to a comprehensive company-wide
management program best represented by the work of Masaaki Imai (1986). This
program establishes a culture focused on the continuous improvement of all processes
and workplaces through the elimination of waste. As stated by Imai, this use
of Kaizen means “everyday improvement by every person, everywhere”
(Imai, 2010). The creation of a culture of continuous improvement begins at
the top with management. Every manager models and teaches the commitment to
continuous improvement by applying it to his or her role and to the systems
and processes he or she controls. It spreads across the various functions that
constitute a business—executive, administrative, and operational. It is
owned by every individual who, as with each manager, seeks ways every day to
improve the performance of his or her role and who participates actively in
the improvement of the work processes the worker implements and the workplaces
he or she operates within. When used in this manner, the term Kaizen umbrellas
many other concepts and tools such as customer orientation, total quality control,
QC circles, suggestion systems, standardization of work, cooperative employee
management relationships, total productive maintenance (Imai, 1986, p. 4). While
Imai identifies Japanese management culture as the origin of this approach,
in fact it mirrors precisely, but incompletely, the teaching of W. Edwards Deming
who brought to the leaders of Japanese industry in the early 1950s these very
concepts. He also elaborated the rationale for this approach to business success
in what he termed his “system of profound knowledge.” For a detailed
explanation of Deming’s thinking see Vitalo (2013), Deming
Revisited: The Real Quality Model.
A Specific Tool for Improving Work Processes
In its third use, Kaizen identifies a group of problem solving methods for
making work process improvements. The methods that have been placed under the
label Kaizen are varied and range from suggestion systems (referred to as Teian
Kaizen) to planned events conducted in the workplace that systematically uncover
waste in a work process and workplace and eliminate it (sometimes referred to
as Gemba Kaizen). In this latter use, Kaizen's origins are in World War II (Huntzinger,
2002; Kato, 2006). Kaizen, then known as Job Methods training, a component of
the War Department's Training Within Industry program, was a simple and effective
process that enabled supervisors in concert with workers to devise ways to greatly
improve the yield from work processes. Its development was spurred by the World
War II necessity to produce very much more of everything that was needed for
the war effort, faster than anyone ever had done in the past. Before going further
into Kaizen's origins as a method for making improvements, let's clarify the
varieties of methods that now fall under the label Kaizen.
Varieties of Kaizen Methods
The collection of Kaizen methods can be organized into the following categories:
||Individual versus teamed,
||Day-to-day versus special event, and
||Process or value stream level versus subprocess level.
Individual Versus Teamed
While almost all Kaizen approaches use a teamed approach, there is the method
described as Teian Kaizen or personal Kaizen (Japan Human Relations Association,
1990). Teian Kaizen refers to individual employees uncovering improvement
opportunities in the course of their day-to-day activities and making suggestions.
It does not include making the change itself, but simply the suggestion for
the change. However, when used at Toyota within its suggestion system, the
employee suggesting the change is the one who almost always makes the change
suggestion system is not suggestion). Vital Enterprise’s also uses
the term Teian Kaizen to mean a personal Kaizen wherein a worker applies our
Kaizen method (documented in the Kaizen
Desk Reference Standard) to improve his or her own job. This effort
also unfolds on a day-to-day basis. To my knowledge, all other uses of Kaizen
are teamed efforts.
Day-to-Day Versus Special Event
A teamed example of a day-to-day Kaizen approach is Quality Circles. Here,
a natural work team (people working together in the same area, operating the
same work process) uses its observations about the work process to identify
opportunities for improvement. During any day or perhaps at the end of the
week, the team meets and selects a problem from an earlier shift to correct.
They analyze its sources, generate ideas for how to eliminate it, and make
the improvement. This continuous improvement of the work process is made in
the context of regular worker meetings.
Special event Kaizens are currently most common. These methods plan ahead
and then execute a process or workplace improvement over a period of days.
When they focus at the subprocess level, they take place at the work site
with the purpose of eliminating waste in a component of a value stream. These
special events are performed in the gemba—meaning, "where
the real work is being done"—e.g., on the shop floor or at the
point where are service is being delivered.
Process or Value Stream Level Versus Subprocess Level
Most times, Kaizen refers to improvements made at the subprocess level—meaning,
at the level of a component work process. For example, imagine the end-to-end
production process associated with manufacturing shoes. This is also termed
the value stream. It includes all the activities of that transform raw inputs
into shoes (output) and delivering them to customers. One subprocess would
be the set of operations that apply the sole to the shoe body. Gemba Kaizen,
also referred to as Point Kaizen, is an example of this level of Kaizen application.
On the other hand, the term Kaizen has been used by some, but not many, to
refer to improvements at the value stream or business level (e.g., Flow kaizen
This improvement activity yields structural change to the overall workflow.
The Common Elements
All Kaizen methods that include making change (as opposed to just suggesting
a change) have these features in common.
||They focus on making improvements by detecting and eliminating waste.
||They involve the worker or workers who execute a work process.
||They also involve checking with all others who are affected
by the work process being improved so that their ideas are obtained and
||They use a problem solving approach that observes how the
work process operates, uncovers instances waste, measures its presence,
generates ideas for how to eliminate waste, selects and makes improvements,
measures its effectiveness in eliminating waste, and extracts learning
for sharing across the business.
The Beginnings of Kaizen
As stated earlier, Kaizen as a specific tool for improving work processes
originated in the World War II TWI Job Methods training program. Kaizen methods
that suggest improvements also originated in the work TWI. As a suggestion rather
than action improvement programs, Imai points out that, "Less well known
is the fact that the suggestion system was brought to Japan...by TWI (Training
Within Industry) and the U.S. Air Force" (1986, page 112). Huntzinger (2002)
also traces Kaizen back to the Training Within Industry (TWI) program. TWI was
established to maximize industrial productivity from 1940 through 1945. One
of the improvement tools it developed, tested, and disseminated was labeled
"How to Improve War Production Methods." It taught supervisors the
skill of improving work processes. This program's name was changed to "How
to Improve Job Methods" (War Production Board, 1945, page 191) and is now
most often referred to as Job Methods training. It taught supervisors how to
uncover opportunities for improving work processes and implement improvements.
It incorporated a job aid that reminded the person of the improvement process.
This process began with recording the present method of operation including
details about machine work, human work, and materials handling—much like
a process observations would. It used challenging questions, to provoke the
discovery of improvement opportunities. It provided tips for eliminating waste—e.g.,
discard unnecessary steps, combine steps where possible, simplify the operations,
and improve sequencing. It incorporated operator involvement in identifying
waste and developing better ways to do the process. It instructed people to
check out their ideas with others, conclude the best way to make the improvement,
document it, get authorization, and make the improvement. Its improvements included
classic poka yoke solutions like the use of jigs and guides to reduce or eliminate
errors. TWI emphasized incremental improvements focusing on the processes closest
to the person and making improvements that did not require wholesale redesign
of machines or tools.
The linkage to Lean and Kaizen flows from the introduction of TWI into Japan
in the early 1950s by the SCAP and it utility as a means for acting on Deming’s
teaching. The method was translated into Japanese, used extensively, and remained
unmodified until 1955 (Kato, 2006). At that time Toyota commissioned Shigeo
Shingo to upgrade the course with additional content. Shingo introduced more
extensive time and motion measurement and analysis and renamed the course the
“P-Course” (Kato, 2006). The “P-Course” replaced TWI's
Job Methods training as Toyota’s Kaizen training program and continued
to be used until 1978 when Toyota again revised the program. Kato points out
that Shingo also taught the upgraded Kaizen P-course “...at Matsushita
Electric Corporation and many other Japanese companies.” By the time of
the International Motor Vehicle Program's study of Japanese methods in 1985,
Kaizen had been incorporated as a process improvement method in many Japanese
companies for almost four decades.
So, we can make these points.
- Kaizen and Six Sigma™ are associated with the Quality Model for achieving
success in business.
- The term Kaizen has many different uses ranging from referring to a principle
of personal conduct to a company wide strategy for achieving business success
(Imai, 1986). In the United states, one of its most common uses is as the
name of a lean enterprise tool for improving work processes. In this use,
it refers to a systematic and specialized application of problem solving to
uncover and extract waste from a work process.
- Kaizen as a company wide strategy for achieving business success is derived
from the writings of W. Edwards Deming although the completeness of that connection
seems to be unrecognized. It abstracts from Deming’s work the ideas
that improvements must benefit customers; that they must occur everyday, everywhere,
and be implemented by everyone; that management must lead the implementation
and that managers must be models and agents of its adoption; and that management
and non-management employees must operate cooperatively.
- The term “Kaizen” has two uses. One use refers to the principle
of continuous improvement and describes a fundamental element in the Quality
Model and in Lean thinking. The second use refers to methods that either suggest
(e.g., Teian Kaizen) or generate and implement improvement ideas.
- Of the methods that both generate and make improvements, some methods are
done by an individual, but most are done by teams; some are done day-to-day
(e.g., Quality Circles) and some as special events; and some focus on business-level
processes (value streams) to make large change (Kaikaku or Flow Kaizen) and
some focus at the subprocess level, where the real work is done (Gemba or
- All versions of Kaizen that both generate and make improvements use the
same generic problem solving process approach as does SixSigma™ although
Kaizen pre-dates SixSigma™. They describe the current work process,
detect and measure the presence of waste, generate ways to eliminate that
waste, implement the improvement ideas, and measure the effects of the improvement
- Kaizen predates Six Sigma™ by almost five decades and the introduction
of Lean thinking by almost four decades. Its origins trace to the United States
where its concepts and methods were pioneered, tested, and later exported
to Japan. Japanese companies adopted this method, integrated it into their
Quality efforts, refined and elaborated its process, and sustained its use.
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1A reviewer of this article cautioned me
to distinguish the Quality Model from the Quality departments that
populate businesses, since most readers will be familiar with the later and
not the former. Establishing a bureaucracy with sole responsibility for “Quality”
is inherently antithetical to the Quality Model, as it tends to concentrate
concern into one administrative unit. The Quality Model is about involving everyone
in owning and acting to continuously improve. As well, most of these departments
became repositories for “standards” and data that is not shared
and leveraged into better performance. Finally, some of these departments remain
essentially rooted on post hoc discovery of defects, a practice denounced from
the very earliest times by Deming. Your Quality Department may be very different
from this picture, but if it is not, do not confuse it with what we refer to
here as the “Quality Model.”
2 The Taguchi loss function mathematically
represents the loss due to the gap between what is produced and what a customer
ideally seeks. Deming praised Taguchi’s work because it made clear that
value lost progressively increases as variation increases from the intended
condition. Even a stable system, therefore, can exhibit loss unless its nominal
output precisely satisfies its customer’s value.
name of the model was Lean Production (Womack et al., 1991). The model is also
referred to as: Lean Manufacturing, Lean Thinking, and Lean Enterprise.
will see below, the term Kaizen has multiple meanings. These different uses
of the term will be explored fully below.
stark description of the circumstances on the ground in Japan when Deming arrived,
read Walton’s description of the experiences Deming recorded in his diary.
See Walton (1986), especially pages 10–21.
does not use this precise language (i.e., “value stream”). Deming
depicts the value stream as a “flow diagram” (Deming, 1982, p. 4). The production
system begins on its left side with suppliers and ends on its right side with
customers. His guidance states that “every activity, every job is part
of a process” and that mapping these processes represents the enterprise’s
“theory” about how it generates the product or service delivered
to the ultimate customer. He explains a process as a sequence of stages through
which work passes. In each stage, inputs change state and are passed to the
next stage. All stages must operate together as a whole. “Each stage works
with the next stage and with the preceding stage toward optimum accommodation,
all stages working together toward quality that the ultimate customer will boast
about” (Deming, 1982a, p. 87).
industries, pull is inherently the trigger for service delivery. No one can
initiate a service operation until a customer requests it. An automotive repair
shop cannot initiate an oil change for your car until you deliver your car to
it and request the service. Neither can a health care provider respond to a
person’s illness until the person presents him- or herself and requests
care. The challenge in the service sector is to be available to serve when service
is needed. This is the challenge of making the service flow. On the other hand,
the supply processes associated with service delivery will generally not be
pulled and these areas would be targeted for implementing pull.
in "Six Sigma" is not the equivalent of the term "sigma"
as used in statistics. Six sigma is not six standard deviations from the mean.
For clarification of this issue, see Burns, 2007.
the claims made about Six Sigma contribution to Motorla's success are incorrect
(iSixSigma, 2005) as well as its relationship to the statistical concept of
sigma (see Footnote 6, above).
people identify Kaikaku as radical change and in this way distinguish it from
kaizen, which refers to incremental change.
Published January 11, 2013, Revised January 12, 2013
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