Strategic and HRM aspects of kaizen: a case study

Strategic and HRM aspects of kaizen: a case study

This article presents a case study of a kaizen in a UK diesel engine manufacturer. Kaizen is explained as an emergent strategy; its effective- ness in reducing costs is explained by its effects on the effort bargain and by the organisation of the work standardisation task. Kaizen-related changes, perceptions of the employees, and its effects of the competitive position of the firm are reviewed.

The aim of this article is to describe, analyse What is kaizen? and evaluate a case study of how a kaizen Kaizen has been defined as any process of strategy was managed in the UK operations continuous improvement in any arena of life: of Dieselco, a large multi-national engineer- personal, social, home or work [1]. The pro- ing firm making diesel engines, over the per- cess is often seen as being underpinned by iod 1990–96. The article shows how: a philosophy which regards the struggle for

unending improvement as a desirable andI the kaizen strategy was formulated; harmony inducing end in itself.I the kaizen function was organised and

Although it is usually discussed as a tech-resourced; nique supporting total quality control or just-I kaizen supported increased operational in-time (JIT), it can support any managementefficiency through the management of activity including cost reduction [2]; timethe effort bargain and cost effective stan- management [3], safety management [4], pro-dardisation of work tasks; duct design, productivity improvements,I the strategy was implemented and its zero defects, maintenance management ororganisational consequences; new product development. ContinuousI kaizen was perceived by the managers improvement can mean waste elimination,and employees. innovation or managing new standards. The

The article defines kaizen, indicates its sig- kaizen process can draw on any management nificance and outlines the methodology. The tool including suggestion schemes, small case is presented, and selected strategic and group problem-solving, statistical techniques, human resource management issues are ana- brainstorming or work study. Its target can lysed and evaluated. be manufacturing, maintenance, suppliers,

management systems or administration. This multiplicity of methods, ends and

contexts means that kaizen is highly poly- valent both as a concept and a technique.❒ Hedley Malloch is a Principal Lecturer, School of

Business and Management, University of Teesside. This article is a study of an organisation

 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main St., Malden, MA 02148, USA.

108 New Technology, Work and Employment

where kaizen came to mean a type of con- from an organisational and strategic perspec- tive of how kaizen has been developed in UKtinuing improvement in the shape of formal

systems and procedures for analysing the firms who have adopted lean production sys- tems. This article aims to help fill that of assembly line operators with a view

to eliminating what managers saw as ‘wasted human effort’. The reduction of ‘wasted

Methodologyhuman effort’ in Dieselco’s assembly oper- ations was achieved by removing the ‘unpro- The data presented in this paper were gath- ductive’ use of operators’ time spent waiting, ered as part of a larger study aimed at tracing or in unnecessary operations, motions or the development of a lean production system movements. The aim was to produce more into two United Kingdom factories of a large engines with a reduced labour input per manufacturer of diesel engines over the per- engine. iod 1989–1996. The research design was:

Thus kaizen can be seen as an element of I Forty interviews with personnel froma continuous improvement strategy. But in

both factories drawn from the manufac-Dieselco kaizen was that part of continuous turing, engineering, marketing, humanimprovement which most affected the work resources, supply and procurement,of assembly operators. For them kaizen came shipping and quality functions. Job titlesto mean continuous improvement. included directors, plant managers, middle managers, supervisors, shop

The importance of kaizen floor, office and administrative person- nel. Included in the interview sampleFor many writers kaizen plays a central role were the convenors in each plant of thein the success of ‘new wave manufacturing Amalgamated Engineering and Electricalstrategies’ [5]. Imai describes it as “the single Union (AEEU) and the Manufacturing,most important concept in Japanese manage- Science and Finance (MSF) unions. Thement” [6]. Oliver and Wilkinson note that for interviews were semi-structured, tape-many commentators kaizen “is the dis- recorded and focused on how the shift totinguishing feature between Japanese and lean production had affected the inter-Western organisations’ (italics in original) [7]; viewee’s job over the period of the study.for Conti and Warner kaizen “sums up the

I An inspection of relevant company docu-features we associated with Japanese man- mentation.agement” [8]. Sengenberger and Campbell

I Guided tours of both factories.argue that kaizen is one of the principal fea- tures of lean production; indeed, for them the The data were gathered between May andobjectives of lean production and many July 1996. At the time of writing (Augustkaizen programmes are identical: the avoid- 1996) a section of the data has been fully ana-ance of waste [9]. Williams et al. identify a lysed, but the remainder has not. Thereforemanagement preoccupation with the calcu- the evaluation and conclusions presented inlation of work within a culture of kaizen as this paper must be regarded as tentativethe main means by which Japanese car firms and provisional.are able to reduce labour and control labour The evidence is presented in the form of acosts [10]; Bertodo claims kaizen as a reason case study written at company level embrac-why Japanese manufacturers are able to man- ing the experiences of two plants located overage quick productivity and quality break- 150 miles apart. There were distinctions in throughs, and as a key component in a how kaizen evolved in each of the plants and turnround strategy [11]. Others who have how it was organised. Attention is drawn to taken up these themes include Webb and these variations where they were important.Bryant who advocate the widespread adop- tion of kaizen as a solution to the declining competitiveness of American manufacturing Kaizen in Dieselco firms [12].

Despite its importance and interest, kaizen The diesel engine industry has attracted relatively little attention. Some of the major texts on lean production systems The diesel engine industry was marked by

great diversity of producers and markets.mention it only in passing [13]. There have been few case-study based accounts written Producers were divided into two types:

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 109 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

or fuel consumption . . . all those things areintegrated manufacturers, such as Volvo, compromised . . . you reach a point where a newFord and Caterpillar, making diesel engines engine design is fit their own equipment; and loose engine

makers, like Dieselco, selling to a variety of It was estimated that in 1996 a new engine customers and industries. design would have a guaranteed product life

The competitive conditions in the diesel of four years before it was overtaken by an engine industry over the period of the study ever-rising tide of emission control standards were not good. Competition in the industry and need for lower costs. New engines were had intensified as buyer power had expensive to develop. The research and increased. Customers demanded better per- development costs for a new engine could be formance measured by higher horse-power, $200 million, a big component in what was a lower cost and improved compliance with high fixed cost business. Unit fixed costs rising environmental standards. Buyers had were controlled by output: the higher the reduced in number as many users had engine output, the lower the fixed cost per moved toward contract hire, and traditional engine. Firms making diesel engines in 1996 boundaries between loose and integrated not only had to manage problems of diversity manufacturers were eroded as integrated and range. They were required to produce manufacturers sold their excess capacity into engines in large volume. Plant output became markets which historically had been a highly important variable in Dieselco’s stra- regarded as the preserve of loose engine tegic equations. makers.

Markets were characterised by diversity. DieselcoBuyers were international: national rules on

emissions and road speeds, and factors such Dieselco was a leading multi-national firm of as traffic density and the quality of the loose diesel engine manufacturers, with its national road system meant that engine set- headquarters in the USA, and manufacturing tings and components had to be precisely facilities in over 30 countries. It covered all tailored to comply with local requirements. segments of the diesel engine market and Diesel engines had a multiplicity of end uses competed on a strategy of broad differen- in transport (buses, trucks, locomotives, tiation based on quality as defined by per- marine); power generation, extraction, and formance, reliability, service and reputation construction equipment each of which [14]. In the four years up to 1989 the UK- demanded different performance character- based operations of Dieselco recorded losses istics requiring tailored fuel, cooling, exhaust, of over £50 million, a performance which electronic and lubrication systems. Finally, mirrored the deteriorating position of individual customers’ requirements could Dieselco as a whole. It was against this back- determine the precise nature of fits and fin- cloth that Dieselco took the decision formally ishes of all aspects of engine configuration to embrace the principles of lean production down to the exact location of the dip-stick. as an integrated coherent package.

These buyer-driven forces reached parti- cularly intense levels in the UK operations of

Lean production in DieselcoDieselco. In other markets, especially North America, Dieselco used their brand name to The lean production system was introduced counter rising buyer power. But in European into Dieselco in 1989 and reached its UK markets the Dieselco’s brand reputation was plants about a year later. It appears to have weaker and as a consequence Dieselco’s UK been modelled on the Toyota Production Sys- factories were required to customise to a tem [15]. Its principal features were: greater extent than their North American counterparts. I A statement of five principles stressing

commitment to customers, quality andThe management of variety foreshortened product life cycles. One technical operations human asset development.

I Ten common practices to be followed inmanager commented: all Dieselco’s units. These included

We have been able to go through several emissions synchronised flow production, the pri-changes without a fundamental engine re-design. macy of the customer, capable processes,But you get to a point where you have to re-design a commitment to functional excellence,the engine, otherwise there are too many compro-

mises with power, torque, speed, throttle response built-in quality, partnership with sup-

110 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

pliers, employee involvement, the cre- Dieselco’s UK plants ation of an environment in which quality The first engine plant in the study wasand productivity could flourish and a located in Bilchester, an industrial town in general commitment to use problem northern England. Its strategic position was solving and continuous improvement less than ideal. The Bilchester plant was one processes. of ten Dieselco plants which made six-litre

I A commitment to continuous improve- diesel engines mainly for the fiercely-com- ment through waste elimination and var- petitive European bus and truck market. It iety reduction through the creation of had one customer who accounted for 20% of common practices, a common approach the plant’s output, with the balance sold to a to problem solving, a common improve- large customer base many of whom bought ment process, common measurements less than 10 engines per year. The plant and common training. worked under full capacity, producing under

200 engines per day, spread over 5000 speci- fications. Over 500 people were employed inThese principles, practices and processes the factory in 1996.were supported by an impressive array of

The second plant was at Ebworth, a townamply documented planning, audit, and in the Midlands. This factory made over 3000highly visible measurement systems to be fol- engines a year in the high horse-power 38–lowed by plants and functions; the creation 50 litre range. In 1996 it was a very profitableof a myriad of cross-functional committees, plant, employing 650 people in the work-groups, task forces and new posts to ensure shops and; and extensive efforts to in-

Although strategically different the plantsvolve employees at all levels through training had many functional similarities. By 1996and communication. both plants were assembly operations; Bil-The most striking feature of the continuous chester had divested its manufacturing facili-improvement strategy launched in 1989 was ties in the 1980s and Ebworth subcontractedthe absence of any mention of kaizen. At this its machine shop in the early 1990s. The movetime there were two continuous improve- to synchronous flow production had meantment techniques commended to plants: a the introduction of flow line productionseven-step problem solving process, a generic methods, a process which had not been com-methodology which could be applied by pleted in either factory by 1996.groups or individuals to a wide range of Dieselco enjoyed a reputation as an excel-problems; and a common approach to con- lent employer offering very good terms and

tinuous improvement (CACI) which tackled conditions of employment. Finally, both fac- improvements using systems concepts tories were unionised with the AEEU and (inputs, throughputs, outputs) targeted at MSF representing the shop floor and office problems at departmental or plant level. staff respectively. Industrial relations in both Kaizen, as a systematised approach to remov- plants were good, but quite robust. The ing ‘wasted human effort’ through systematic trades unions generally accepted the need for work analysis, does not feature in any of changes embedded in the new lean pro- Dieselco’s documentation until 1994, by duction strategies, but were prepared to bar- which time kaizen was already well estab- gain hard over implementation issues. The lished in Dieselco’s UK plants. The initial plants’ history included the use of sanctions omission of kaizen from Dieselco’s managers’ in pursuit of claims. The climate in both considerations was not an oversight. When plants had inevitably been affected by Diesel- lean production was first launched in co’s decision announced in 1996 to close a Dieselco, senior managers did not consider third UK plant. kaizen to be suitable. There appear to have been two reasons for this perception. Firstly,

The development of kaizen asmanagerial awareness of kaizen was patchy; strategy formationsecondly, it was considered to be a risky

strategy in terms of employees’ reactions at a Kaizen and the reduction of takt timetime when managers were anxious to achieve

a successful launch of the new lean pro- The central problem in Dieselco which kaizen duction systems. was used to solve was how assembly oper-

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 111 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

ations were to be changed to accommodate a The emergence of kaizen steadily reducing takt time. Takt time is very

In 1989 there was no mention of kaizen in theimportant in lean production. It is the heart- extensive documentation and videos whichbeat of the lean production factory; the pulse- launched lean production into Dieselco’s UKrate of synchronous flow manufacturing and operations. Instead there were references toJIT. But takt time is not well understood and two other techniques of continuous improve-it is therefore appropriate to clarify the con- ment, seven-step problem solving and CACI.cept. Takt time is a customer determined By 1996 kaizen was employing the full-timecycle time. If customers demand 30 units an services of 12 people at Ebworth and 16 athour, then the cycle time—the time interval Bilchester. In addition 70 shop floor operatorsbetween successive process outputs at any have been trained in kaizen in the Bilchesterwork station on the line must be 2 minutes. plant. Between 1992 and 1996 over 300 kaizenThe interval between items coming off the projects had been implemented in with sav-end of the line has to be 120 seconds [16]. ings conservatively estimated at overTakt time is a function of the required output: £2 million. Seven-step problem solving wasit is order-book driven. It differs fundamen- effectively absorbed into the kaizen processtally from other approaches to setting output and CACI was seen as a method of continu-targets, such as a standard time, which is the ous improvement which was appropriate foramount of time necessary to complete a task office work. By 1996 kaizen was the domi-taken by competent employee working at a nant method of continuous improvement in

standard level of effort. Dieselco’s internal operations. Standard times are based on some system The development of kaizen in Dieselco

of work measurement and are therefore raises fundamental questions of how some essentially process or input driven. Takt lean production strategies are formulated, times and standard times meet when man- emerge and are implemented. Much of the ning calculations are made. For example, literature on lean production [17] gives the with a desired output of 30 an hour, takt time impression that these strategies are the pro- will be 2 minutes. If the total standard time duct of careful reflection, rational analysis to assemble the product is 50 minutes, then and implemented in a planned linear manner a minimum of 25 workers will be required. commonly described in many strategic man- If kaizen reduces the total standard assembly agement texts [18]. time to 40 minutes then the minimum work- The reality was much more complex in this force falls to 20, with takt time remaining at case. The history of kaizen in Dieselco’s UK 2 minutes for the desired output. plants showed a ‘messy’ process, with key

Takt times are used to determine how stages in its rise having a serendipitous nature. Its effectiveness as a continuousmany tasks a worker will perform and how improvement strategy appeared to depend asmany people will be required on the line. much on the presence of a strong organis-Conceptually kaizen and takt times are inde- ational myth as on a carefully consideredpendent. Kaizen improvements can be car- implementation plan. There were fourried out with reference to takt times, and takt strands in its growth. First, both plants re-times are determined by the order-book and organised their manufacturing facilities dur-not by kaizen improvements. But in practice ing the early 1990s. Some shop floor andin Dieselco both takt times and headcount office staff were released and re-organisedwere continually reducing the period of the into ‘continuous improvement teams’. Thisstudy as managers sought greater through- redeployment appeared, at least in part, toput and more efficient use of labour. Added have been due to a desire by managementto these considerations was the stream of to avoid redundancies at a time when leanchanging demands from product markets for production was being introduced. This re-customisation of engines. Taken together organisation created the resources for kaizen.they paint a picture of both managers and

Second, the continuous improvementassembly workers engaged in an unending teams were given some training in kaizen byround of ‘rationalising’ workers’ tasks in the Kaizen Institute of America (KIA). Theorder to do more with less. Kaizen came to model of kaizen offered in the training borebe seen as essential to the management of little resemblance to what followed. Recallingthis process. their experiences many of the participants

112 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

were quite critical of the training and the was raised. One of Dieselco’s staff who par- ticipated in the training told it:view of kaizen offered by KIA. One re-


The kaizen mythWe had a five-day training course. The first day was classroom work, and then we went out on the shop floor in groups of five or six and we did a We went over there and that is when I learned project. I don’t think that the KIA had any idea of what kaizen was really about. The . . . first morn- how kaizen should be run . . . They did not go into ing, they took us all out to the shop floor. There enough detail on the analytical side of it—how you was a small block-line where they made very small do the charts and the statistics. I would say at the engines, like a lawn-mower engine. There were 24 end of the first week 75% of the people . . . did not machines laid out like this (draws plan of line understand it. They knew what it was, but they on paper.) did not understand how it worked.

The consequence of the KIA training was to sensitise the continuous improvement teams to kaizen: from this point the word kaizen entered the vocabulary of continuous im- provement at Dieselco. But understanding came from another source—a link with Osaka Engines.

The Japanese influence

Osaka Engines was a Japanese producer of small agricultural diesel engines. They took a share in Dieselco in the late 1980s to acquire Dieselco’s expertise on emissions controls. In return they offered Dieselco consultancy on production management. The third strand in kaizen’s development was when Osaka’s engineers visited the UK plants in 1991–2 to help with new plant layouts. They worked with the newly-formed continuous improve- ment teams using kaizen as one of their tech- niques. The effect of this direct exposure to kaizen, as employed by Osaka Engines, on Dieselco’s continuous improvement teams was considerable. One recalled:

There were two Japanese blokes here working on the new automatic guided vehicles lines. They showed us how they used kaizen. The Japanese were much more focused and aggressive than the KIA. Everything—but everything—that did not Figure 1: Plan of the engine block line add value was seen to be waste and had to be

. . . between these machines in about one metre ofremoved. They changed our mindset. The attitude space was just enough for one man to work. Theywas: ‘here is a stopwatch: go out and measure had two people working the line: one went up onewaste’. They gave us some kaizen projects. We did half as far as he could work; the second one fin-them and showed them what we had done. They ished off the process. The kaizen leaders told us:did not say anything—they just smiled and ‘For the next hour study everything that happensnodded. on the line, then see what elements of waste you can find’.The fourth strand in the evolution of kaizen Well, we were amazed. The block-line was run-was the training given to the continuous ning like a Swiss clock. For the first forty-fiveimprovement teams by Osaka Engineering in minutes we just stood there with our mouths of their factories in Japan. This was the Then they started to prompt us a little. In the last

source of a powerful kaizen myth in Dieselco, fifteen minutes we did come up with some a story recounted to the researcher by Diesel- elements of waste that we thought we could

improve. The trainers said that we should alwaysco’s people whenever the subject of kaizen

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 113 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

go out and study the job first to see if you can to be implemented and about its ends. If the pick up elements of waste; for example, if a man myth is deconstructed then the salient fea- is walking too far, or if he is bending too much. tures of the kaizen system in Dieselco are laidThey gradually led us into that way of thinking.

bare. The principal messages from the decon-Then they showed us how to record work on a structed kaizen myth to Dieselco membersvideo; they said we should record all motions.

Next they showed us how to record these motions are shown in Figure 2. on a standard work combination chart. They took This is what kaizen came to mean in us through each step in the process breaking each Dieselco. Support for this view could be work element down into seconds. As we started to found in how members of kaizen teamsdo these charts it became so clear how the process

described their jobs in 1996. One participantworked and showed we could pick out all the described how although kaizen had beenelements of waste. It told such a story—it was

incredible. They showed us how to draw the used on projects other than those of reducing capacity by process charts. There were 24 effort and time, such as quality problems machines; you would take the elements and put with dented fillers, burned hoses and faulty them into a bar chart. Everything was worked on materials, by 1996 all the work was in efforta takt time and we could see which parts of the

management. He commented:process were within the takt time. We could see as the engines travelled which parts of the process The big re-focus this year has been to get 16 were within the takt time or close to it, or without engines an hour, to understand which operations it. Then we looked at the process and tried to bal- are over 203* seconds and to get them down. ance the work between processes, balancing the Kaizen lends itself to this: it’s all about people per- line around the takt time. forming work. Some of the other techniques such The goal they set us was to get down to one man as seven-step problem solving and common on the line instead of two. Now the block line was approaches to continuous improvement might be churning out an engine block every 243 seconds. better for quality and product defects. We want to We had to cut that down by 100 seconds. We be where there is a people element of work. found about 40 seconds . . . they had already found about 80 seconds, but what we found brought them up to target, because we found bits that they had missed. We made all this new equipment. Some of it we installed in the line, some of it did not get deliv- I kaizen is portable between organis-ered until after we had gone. We got a message

ationsback from them the week after we had left saying I the reduction of unnecessary humanthat the parts had come in and that the goal had

been achieved. movement is essential to waste elimin- ation

This story is important for two connected I complex tasks can be analysed by sim- reasons. First, numerous writers have ple paper-based systems pointed out the importance of organisational I waste can be measured in seconds stories such as this one in times of great I impressive reductions in waste are change. Weick argues that they can be an possible even in the most tightly-regu- important means by which organisation lated and apparently well-managed members can understand new and unexpec- environments ted problems and opportunities, to help to I the study of waste elimination can be make them more manageable [19]. Wilkins systematised and programmed identifies stories as symbols which control I most people can be trained to the organisation [20]. Second, the story offers implement kaizen kaizen as a socially-constructed reality [21]. As Goodall argues that:

Figure 2: The kaizen myth deconstructed Socially-constructed realities allow employees and managers to develop rites, rituals and routines, and to co-ordinate activities towards the ac- complishment of organisational objectives [22].

* The statement suggests a possible misunderstanding by the respondent as to the calculation and meaningMeaning is particularly important to an idea of takt times. With a takt time of 203 seconds hourlysuch as kaizen which exists both as a philo- engine output should be 3600/203 or 17.7 engines persophy and also as polyvalent management hour and not 16 as stated. This may be an arithmetic

process. The kaizen myth gave kaizen in slip on the part of the respondent, or a sign that the Dieselco its meaning: it permitted some level text-book method of calculating takt times was either

not fully understood, or applied.of shared understanding of how kaizen was

114 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

The significance of the evidence presented had much in common with traditional work study embracing as it did method study andhere is that it suggests that kaizen could be

seen as an emergent rather than a planned work measurement. As applied to job design and task specification many of kaizen’s con-process with elements of an umbrella and

process strategies [23], whose development cerns are identical to work study: the identi- fication, development and measurement of awas in part influenced by random events,

such as the contacts with Osaka Engineering standardised method of working. personnel. It can also be viewed as revealed strategy whose meaning was conveyed to

Kaizen and operational efficiencyorganisational members by means of a myth, rather than as espoused strategy promulgated Kaizen cut the cost of in-plant operations by by the formal communication mechanisms. nearly £2 million in total between 1992–1996.

It did this in many ways, but this section will concentrate on the human resource manage-Kaizen as a cost reduction ment aspects of kaizen. The labour input per

strategy engine in both plants dropped by 11% and 14% in the Bilchester and Ebworth plants

How kaizen was organised respectively between 1992, the year kaizen started and the second quarter of 1996.In both plants the kaizen function was Kaizen appeared to have accomplished thisheaded by a manager who was assisted by by:supervisors. But the bulk of the operational

work was performed by kaizen teams, each I permitting better management control of comprising two or three operators on long- the effort bargain; term secondment from their jobs on the I facilitating a faster, cost effective reaction assembly line. A typical secondment might to the management of work standardis- last between nine months and two years. ation in both plants. After that time the operator returned to the line. Initial training lasted for one week; one day’s off-the-job training followed by four

Kaizen and the effort bargaindays on a live project concluding with a pres- entation of results to the project problem. The Elimination of waste means that manage- training began with an introduction to the ment aimed to increase labour utilisation kaizen principles and forms of waste. rates both directly, and indirectly where the

It then moved into a detailed consideration kaizen problem was targeted on line balanc- of the kaizen approach and methods. This ing, inventory control or machine utilisation. was systematised and documented into a 20- Kaizen was intended to increase the pro- step process covering the entire process from portion of time that employees spent in man- introduction to project completion. En-route agement defined value-added activities. participants were taken through: Therefore for Dieselco’s managers a central

concern of kaizen was the management andI problem diagnosis using techniques such measurement of effort with a view to elimin-as Pareto analysis, layout diagrams, ating slack in the system. It has been arguedflow charts; that such concerns lead to an intensificationI recording activities on video, analysing of the labour process by pushing back thevideo data on standard work combi- frontiers of control [24]. JIT/TQM systems donation charts and process capacity charts this by increasing managers’ capacity forto identify waste and non-waste activi- surveillance and monitoring; heighteningties; employees’ responsibilities and account-I identifying causes of waste; abilities; increasing the interchangeability ofI establishing new targets; workers in the production process; peerI developing a promotion plan; pressure; and harnessing the mental andI promulgating results. manual skills of the shop floor to further the accumulation of capital. Kaizen is seen asAfter one week’s training kaizen operators

were formed into teams of two or three and supporting this process [25]. The evidence from Dieselco suggests thatset to work.

It can be seen from this account that kaizen this is only a partial explanation of how

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 115 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

kaizen intensifies managerial control of the sidered to be adept at confusing manage- ment. There was no evidence that Dieselco’swork effort bargain. There is another dimen-

sion to the phenomenon and that concerns shop stewards had any influence in who was chosen to participate in the kaizen studies.the rules under which the effort bargain is

made in a kaizen system. Brown argues that Managers had complete freedom to select operators and to reject those whom they con-measurement of effort is a bargaining process

which occurs within a framework of rules sidered to be unsuitable. With respect to who makes the bargainand that these rules can favour either man-

agers or workers [26]. He draws attention to about the new standards and working methods, the issue is of the freedom enjoyedthe importance of the rule-making process in

influencing the effort bargain, especially the by management to choose with whom the bargain is to be struck. The bargain is morerelative importance of formal, written rules

as opposed to custom and practice. There likely to favour management if the bargain is settled with the individual worker whosewas a formal agreement on the use of kaizen

between the management of the Ebworth work has been studied than, say, with a com- mittee of shop stewards chaired by the con-plant and the AEEU signed in 1992, but this

was restricted to guarantees that there would venor. What appears to have happened in both plants was that the management settledbe no compulsory redundancies as a result

of kaizen and to the selection and training of with the small group of workers most immediately concerned with the work. Whilekaizen teams from the shop floor. There was

a verbal agreement to the same effect at Bil- individual shop stewards may have been involved in discussions about new workchester.

The agreements were silent on the issue of standards, there is no evidence in either plant of disagreements being settled at any pointhow the kaizen-related effort bargains were

to be conducted on the shop floor. It was other than at the work group. It can be con- cluded that kaizen-related effort bargainstherefore necessary to observe the rules as

they were implemented. Brown wrote about were more likely to have been made without reference to a wider body of knowledgethe problem of rule-making and effort bar-

gaining in the context of establishing stan- regarding standards implemented elsewhere in the plant and were thus, on balance, moredard times for use in piecework systems [27].

Dieselco did not use piecework systems; likely to have favoured management. therefore not all of Brown’s rules can be applied to Dieselco, and Brown was writing The freedom of work study when the labour and product market contexts

The accuracy and rigour of the application ofwere entirely different from those prevailing work study techniques is a critical factor inin the 1990s. But two of Brown’s rule types whether the resulting work standards will bedo appear to be relevant. These were: ‘loose’ or ‘tight’ with respect to wasted effort.

I the principal agents involved in the Brown identified a number of significant bargain; dimensions to the freedom managers could

I the freedom of work study. potentially enjoy with respect to work study [28]. Three that were relevant to Dieselco were:

The principal agents involved in the I the application of accurate methods ofbargain

time measurement; There are two issues associated with the prin- I the number of job cycles managers cipal agents in the bargain: the choice of could observe; operators whose work is to be studied and I management demonstrations that pro-who makes the bargain after the study. posed working methods are feasible.Brown argues that the greater the choice enjoyed by management in selecting the A key development in work study in recent

years, and one which post-dates Brown’soperators who are to be studied, then the more likely was the outcome to favour man- work, has been the introduction of the video.

Where this is used, as it was in Dieselco, itagement. He notes that where shop stewards are involved in choosing the operators whose has shifted the freedom of work study mark-

edly in management’s favour. Making videoswork is to be studied, then they would nor- mally choose someone whom they con- of work and processes was an essential part

116 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

of Dieselco’s kaizen system. The video rec- supervisor in a kaizen team described one example:ordings showed a clock thus permitting very

accurate time measurement. The playback facility effectively allowed kaizen teams to There was then an argument about how long it

took to change the tips on the cutters. The oper-observe as many job cycles as they required. ators insisted that it took 90 minutes. So againThe capacity for slow-motion playback we did a study. One of my colleagues actuallyallowed work and processes to be analysed videoed me doing a tip change. I did not rush—I

to a level of detail undreamed of by earlier just took my time and it took eleven minutes. . . . generations of work analysts. Many man- But all along the way we had to prove everything.

We had to do it ourselves and to prove it. Get itagers commented on the analytical power the on video, show it to the operators and to manage-video brought to the kaizen process. One ment to prove this is how it runs. And this wascontinuous improvement manager com- accepted. . . . You need somebody in the [kaizen]mented: team who can do the job that is being studied. We had a machinist on the block-line, I was a machin-You go out and video it and watch it again and ist from the machine shop and we had a chap fromagain and record every little detail—even if he assembly, so between us we could pretty wellwalks for two seconds to pick up something. You cover any skill in the factory. That helped us a lotget right inside the process and you begin to because we could prove what was said.understand it. You begin to realise that what the

operator is doing is not necessary. He should not do it. So you eliminate it from the process. Even This incident raises the issue of a kaizen pro- process engineers and industrial engineers do not cess manned by shop-floor personnel legit- get into the process in depth the way that kaizen imising new work standards to a higher level does. They don’t identify the waste the ways in than could be attained by managerial demon-which we do.

strations of feasibility. If new working methods and times are legitimised by man-The play-back facility offered managers the agers demonstrating their practicability, thenopportunity to reflect work back to the oper- how much greater is the imprimatur of val-ators whose jobs were being studied, thereby idity when it is stamped by members of theincreasing the chances that operators would workforce themselves?accept and internalise its results:

The data from Dieselco suggest that the And of course there is the clock on the video and dimensions identified by Brown for describ- you can time all the elements; where he walks to, ing the freedom of work study were too nar-how long it takes him to pick up a piece and to

row. A theme in the kaizen myth endorsedscrew it together—all down in seconds. At times by many of the people interviewed for thiswe have had operators come up and watch what

we have done and sit there with us. You can see study who worked on the kaizen teams was their faces change and they say: “Why am I doing that the paper-based methods used in kaizen that?” And they are doing things because they for recording and analysing data, such as have done them for 10 years and nobody has standard work combination charts and pro-asked them to do it differently.

cess by capacity charts were simple to use and brought great clarity of understandingAn important source of legitimacy for pro- and increased rigour of analysis to the pro-posed new working methods in any organis- cess of managing effort. Certainly to the out-ation is the ability of managers to demon- sider the documentation employed in thestrate that proposed changes are feasible. kaizen system at Dieselco seemed much sim-This could be a controversial area. Brown pler than the esoteric and arcane analyticalnotes: tools and techniques employed by pro-

It appears to be the case however that, even where fessionally trained industrial engineers. only the general unions are involved, management Thus it seems reasonable to conclude thatdemonstrations are normally banned . . . [29]

one of the means by which kaizen contrib- uted to an improving cost position andThis was not the case at Dieselco. Managers decreasing labour input was by effectivedid demonstrate that proposed new methods management of the process of effort bar-were possible. The managerial capacity for gaining. Under kaizen managers enjoyed suf-successful demonstration of new ways of ficient freedom in the choice of both who wasworking arising from the kaizen process was involved in the kaizen study process and ineased by the fact that many of the people the range and use of techniques to ensurenow managing kaizen had until recently been

employed as operators on the shopfloor. A that, on the whole, the effort bargains

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 117 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

This is not to argue that kaizen meant that anresulting from kaizen were consistent with managerial objectives. industrial engineer’s job was done by lower-

priced labour. It was not. In the Ebworth plant shop floor operators who were trans-The management of work ferred to kaizen work were guaranteed their

standardisation shift and overtime premiums and as a conse- quence earned more than the industrialThe second way in which kaizen contributed engineers. The large pool of operatorsto reduced costs and decreasing labour input ensured a flexible supply of people whoper engine lay in how it resourced the pro- could do technical work to an acceptablecess of work improvement and standardis- standard at short notice.ation that lay at the heart of the kaizen effort.

From the foregoing description it is clear that what kaizen represented was task sim- Kaizen as strategic plification applied to the work standardis- implementation ation process itself. Kaizen was Taylorised

Two themes surfaced in the previous planning. The process of work stan- One was of industrial engineering workdardisation at Dieselco, as elsewhere in being performed by trained shop floor oper-manufacturing, had previously been the pre- ators. In Mintzberg’s terms this representsserve of professionally trained industrial the transfer of the work standardisationengineers. Kaizen represented a means by process from the technostructure to thewhich virtually anyone could be trained in a operating core [31]. Therefore there was anweek to do an important part of their job. issue of structural adaptation. The secondConti and Warner use Hill’s work content theme was of shop floor personnel both as itsmodel to argue that kaizen involves workers means, by their role in resourcing the kaizenin the planning phase of work as well as the function; and as its object, as a resource to bedoing of work [30]. This is an accurate, but used less wastefully. This raises the questionpartial description. The simplified nature of of their perception of kaizen.the kaizen training, procedures, technology

The decision to use kaizen staffed withand analytical systems made possible the shop floor personnel did raise issues of terri-shift of professional industrial engineering tory, and these appeared to be more acute inwork from a small team of appropriately the Ebworth plant than in Bilchester. Thequalified managers and technicians to a com- industrial engineers at the Ebworth reportedparatively de-skilled workforce. Kaizen concern that operators were doing an indus-defined both the outcome and the process of trial engineering job without the professionalwork standardisation in Dieselco. training. Further, because operators wereThere was a view in Dieselco that the work transferred with guaranteed shift and over-of kaizen teams was technically at least as time pay, they were paid more than pro-good as that of the industrial engineers; and fessionally trained industrial engineersthat given the burgeoning workload driven employed on staff conditions. Klein notesby the need to increase the volume of output that continuous improvement can mean thatin a production system in a state of continual first line supervisors become industrialflux, then there was little alternative but to engineers, but the experiences of Dieselcouse kaizen. The position was succinctly suggest that this conclusion is too narrowexpressed by one manager closely involved [32]. In Dieselco shop floor operators becamewith kaizen: industrial engineers thus ensuring that dis-

We have 16 people full-time on kaizen: we have putes about the locus and responsibility for trained a further 60 or 70 on kaizen. They all have the work standardisation process were asthe tools to go out and make improvements. We

much concerned with its hierarchical locationonly have about four industrial engineers in the as with its functional status. This furtherplant. An industrial engineer probably could do it

better, but the guy on the shop floor uses the video underlines the point that techniques such as better—I know I do. If an industrial engineer gets kaizen and JIT cannot be regarded as techni- stuck on a work station with a watch, then it is cal fixes which are organisationally neutral very difficult, especially if he is not that familiar [33].with the work station, and if he is not fully trained.

In redesigning jobs and shifting responsi-And industrial engineers are supposed to go away bilities Kaizen redistributed power betweenand get trained on effort rating every year to

remain qualified. functions. Oliver states that this can create

118 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

tensions between managers and workers, for has as its salient characteristic ‘learning, not coercion’ [40].which he rightly notes that there are no easy

answers or off-the-peg solutions [34]. But the The interviews with shop floor employees revealed support for both views. With regardevidence from Dieselco suggests that it is not

simply an issue of conflict between manage- to the outcomes of kaizen there were some who saw continuous improvement asment and shop floor workers; neither is it a

problem of fostering within the management squeezing slack out of the system to their personal detriment and of imposing workgroups a culture of delegation which

facilitates an empowered workforce working levels on colleagues which they were unable to meet. This is consistent with Parker andin a project-focused, team-based organisation

[35]. The organisational issues in Dieselco Slaughter’s perception of kaizen as manage- ment-by-stress [41]. Other employees spokearose from the relocation of some work stan-

dardisation tasks from industrial engineering positively about kaizen for two reasons: kaizen training made the job more interest-to production management, from staff to line,

from office to shopfloor. Kaizen displaced ing; while kaizen-improved work processes made work easier. The kaizen training andtechnical work in both the horizontal and

vertical dimensions of the organisation. Some the work on kaizen projects was viewed as developing employees’ skills in work analy-of the issues which aroused the deepest

controversy were bread-and-butter ones of sis, team-working and presentation; it trained them in new technologies such as the use ofinverted pay and skill differentials rather

than culture, empowerment or management the video and charting methods; and it gave them a sense of control over the design ofstyle.

There is a view represented by Parker and work. These positive and negative views sup- port those who have argued that the labourSlaughter which argues that kaizen is a form

of ‘management-by-stress’ which “places process in lean production regimes can be contradictory as it can require shop floorworkers on an ever-accelerating treadmill so

that they must improve to survive” and an workers to work in what by their standards is a non-Taylorist manner in order that theinescapable feature of a regime in which it is

“harder for older workers to physically sur- rest of their work is even more Taylor-like [42]. One view is that the effect of kaizen mayvive in the plant” [36]. Klein argues that the

search for a standardised working method be to make work smarter rather than harder [43]. The evidence present here is that, formeans a loss of autonomy for workers both

as individuals and as groups; and that the some employees at least, kaizen made work smarter and harder.elimination of non-value added time through

shortening cycle times and the intensification There was an additional dimension to the shop floor’s perception of kaizen. Manyof multiple-machine working leads to an

increase in stress and a worsening major acci- employees saw kaizen as a valuable means by which the job could be made easier.dent record [37].

On the other hand there is a view rep- Examples were given of processes where waste elimination had meant jobs which wereresented by Adler that the features of Taylor-

ism which were negative for the workforce better designed ergonomically; that is, demanding less bending, carrying and easierderive from its externally imposed character

[38]. Adler argues that continuous improve- body posture. One explanation for this is that despite the large investments in automationment can be an essential part of a strategy

of devolving the job of standardising work and mechanised handling much work of a heavy physical nature remained in both fac-processes from experts to the workforce and

which, if managed correctly, can offer the tories. The fitting of a crankshaft in a dieselopportunity to ensure that the “production

system is designed to realise as much as engine provided a good example. Crank- shafts had to be accurately aligned in thepossible of the latent collaborative potential

between the workers and the system” [39]. engine case in order that cams and gears could be fitted. This task, known as ‘barringAdler envisages the process of work stan-

dardisation being managed by employees as an engine’, was performed by manually forc- ing the crankshaft into the correct positionpotentially offering substantial opportunities

for increasing the skill content in their jobs in using a lever. It could not have been mechan- ised. One manager commented:an organisation which although bureaucratic

Strategic and HRM aspects of Kaizen 119 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

Barring a 50-litre engine is quite something. It ing. The first conclusion is that managers involves the guy hanging on lever and pulling like should be wary of an over-reliance on the hell. You do that fifteen times a shift on a hot day techniques of formal strategic formulationand you know that you’ve done a day’s work.

and planning. The process by which kaizen emerged and, most importantly, was under-In both plants the shop floor workforce was

relatively mature. Details of the age distri- stood by Dieselco’s workforce and its man- agement was messy, accidental and serendip-bution are given in Table 1. Given this age

profile and the prevalence of heavy work in itous. Effective strategy development means that managers should try to build on theseboth plants, if ‘waste elimination’ meant

work which was less physically demanding, experiences and incorporate them. An over- rational approach can drive them out.then for many elderly workers kaizen could

mean the management of stress rather than A second conclusion is that whatever kaizen may mean for the workforce, it helpedmanagement by stress. achieve management’s objectives. It saved

Table 1. The distribution of shop floor personnel Dieselco £2 million in three-and-a-half years by age: Bilchester and Ebworth plants: July 1996 and it created a reservoir of labour skilled at

analysing and standardising work processes. Lower Median Upper The interplay between the competitive

quartile quartile conditions in the diesel engine industry, Dieselco’s competitive strategies, and the eco-Bilchester 38 48 54 nomics of diesel engine production meantEbworth 38 48 58 that kaizen workers would be fully employed in the foreseeable future. To this extent it isSource: Company Personnel Records a source of competitive advantage: it is a

The perceptions of workers who had been means of levering resources [44]. The tech- trained in kaizen and worked in the kaizen nique may be portable, but its outcome is a teams were, on the whole, favourable. Some workforce with deep knowledge of the pro- had reservations about becoming involved duction processes. But whether kaizen has with kaizen, but these seem to have disap- potential as a source of sustainable competi- peared once they were in the process. They tive advantage is open to question [45]. The valued the skills and training they acquired. evidence from this case suggests that it can be For some the opportunity to work on kaizen easily imitated and therefore it cannot offer had been the first step on a career ladder adopting firms a lasting source of superior leading to managerial and supervisory posts. performance. This in turn raises the questions

As yet it is difficult to draw any firm con- of where firms should look for sources of sus- clusions. The data are not yet fully analysed tainable superior performance should all and the case study relies mainly on qualita- organisations in the competitive industry tive data. It indicates only that these percep- adopt kaizen. What happens when all firms tions exist: it says nothing about the extent to reach world class manufacturing standards? which these different views were held. But Kaizen cannot be seen as organisationally on the basis of the evidence to hand it seems neutral. It redistributes power between man- reasonable to conclude tentatively that agement and the workforce; line and staff experiences of the kaizen training and mem- managers; and within the management bership of kaizen teams were seen positively; group. One of the reasons why it works is but that experiences of the outcomes of the that it offers management much tighter con- kaizen process were mixed and may well trol of the effort bargain, but it achieves this depend upon contextual factors such as age in part by recasting the rules regulating the and technology. settlement of the effort reward bargain. Con-

comitant with its effects on the distribution of power are consequences for the earnings,Conclusions job status and future career progressions for employees both as individuals and as groups.This article is about kaizen, but some of its

principal lessons seem relevant to other tech- These factors seem to be much greater im- pediments to its implementation than theniques of lean production such as total qual-

ity management, statistical process control softer obstacles such as ‘culture’ or ‘empowerment’.and JIT production, and to management stra-

tegies such as business process re-engineer- Finally, the evidence on workers’ percep-

120 New Technology, Work and Employment  Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1997.

10. Williams, Karel, Colin Haslam, John Williamstions of kaizen suggests that shop floor and Tony Cutler, ‘Against Lean Production’,experiences of kaizen may be contradictory, Economy and Society, Vol. 21: No. 3, 1992: p. 343.with the kaizen process being seen in a

11. Bertodo, op. cit., pp. 292–3.favourable light; but some outcomes are 12. Webb, Peter B. and Harold L. Bryant, ‘Theviewed unfavourably. Perhaps ‘effort’ may Challenge of Kaizen for American Business

be better conceived as a multi-dimensional Competition’, Journal of Organisation Change concept embracing weight, speed, move- Management, Vol. 6: No. 4, 1993: pp. 9–16. ment, posture. Kaizen may manage each of 13. See for example, Womack, J. P., D. T. Jones, and these dimensions in different ways some of D. Roos, The Machine That Changed The World,

New York, MacMillan, 1990: pp. 149–150;which may be regarded as positive, others as Storey, op. cit., pp. 110–112.negative. The evidence suggests that to the

14. Porter, M. E., Competitive Strategy: Techniques forextent that it removes hard, physical work Analysing Industries and Competitors. New York,then kaizen may have an appeal to an ageing Free Press, 1980: pp. 37–38.workforce. This not only argues for a contex- 15. Monden, Y., The Toyota Production System: Atual view of kaizen, but given the widespread Practical Approach to Production Management,

perception that the British workforce is Atlanta, Industrial Engineering and Manage- ageing, then its attractiveness for manual ment Press, 1983. workers might well spread. 16. Lu, D. J., Kanban and JIT at Toyota. Cambridge,

MA., Productivity Press, 1985: p. 51. 17. See for example Womack et al., op. cit. 18. See Andrews, K., The Concept of Corporate Strat-Acknowledgement

egy, Homewood, Illinois, Dow Jones-Irwin, The author wishes to acknowledge the help- 1971; Argenti, J., Practical Corporate Planning,

London, Allen and Unwin, 1980.ful comments of an anonymous referee. The 19. Weick, K., Sensemaking in Organisations, Thou-responsibility for any remaining errors,

sand Oaks, CA., Sage Publications, 1995.exceptions and omissions remains with the 20. Wilkins, A., ‘Organizational stories as symbolsauthor.

which control the organisation’ in Organiza- tional Symbolism, Eds. Louis J. Pondy et al., Greenwich, CT, JAI, 1983.References

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