Offering intensive in-class training on continuous improvement strategies – like the Kaizen approach to production management and quality control – doesn’t seem to help manufacturing firms to be more efficient. However, it can lead to efficiency improvements when targeted at light industry firms and complemented with follow-up consulting sessions.
What’s the rationale behind this?
Process innovation is a key driver of growth and productivity, but businesses can often struggle to identify and successfully implement effective strategies for improving their ways of working. Continuous improvement strategies focus on improving in a regular and incremental fashion the way things are done in a business. Among such strategies, one which is nowadays widely used in manufacturing firms in both developed and developing countries is Kaizen.
Kaizen is a methodology aimed at reducing inefficiencies in the production processes of manufacturing firms, based on the idea that small but continuous changes can help to reduce costs and lead to important increases in efficiency. It’s a collaborative and proactive approach in which both managers and workers have important roles. Workers are encouraged to spot inefficiencies in the day-to-day production processes and propose solutions for reducing them. Managers are expected to stimulate workers to do so and to foster coordination among them.
Kaizen production practices include designating an area within the workshop for each production process, having a well-defined workflow line, keeping the workshop clean and tidy, having tools and materials well stored, separating defective materials and products from good ones, doing machine maintenance work on a daily basis and holding daily meetings with all workers to organise the workday.
Small business owners and managers
Outcomes of interest
Production practices, production efficiency
Does it work? Here’s what we know so far…
- A 40-hour management training programme featuring basic concepts of Kaizen can trigger light industry firms to adopt better business practices, including Kaizen production practices. This is not the case for heavy industries that use bulky and heavy equipment, materials and products.
- The training seems to nudge light manufacturing firms to adopt many Kaizen practices right after the training. While some of these Kaizen practices are abandoned by firms over time, differences in adoption rates between trained and untrained firms seem to persist in the medium term.
- By itself, a 40-hour in-class management training programme, including Kaizen, doesn’t seem to lead to improved business performance in terms of higher sales or value added.
Complementary consulting sessions
- Light manufacturing firms that receive both the in-class training and the consulting complement seem to be able to increase sales and value added.
- On-site consulting sessions seem to help firms to make better decisions about which practices to keep and which to abandon.
- The positive effects of Kaizen-based training plus consulting might take as long as two years to appear.
- This lag is consistent with the existence of an assimilation period during which firms try out and select the practices that best fit their reality. It also reflects the incremental nature of Kaizen.
Ideas worth trying
- If you’re offering a training programme to light manufacturing firms, try including basic Kaizen concepts in the in-class training and complementing it with one-on-one Kaizen-based consulting sessions.
What to avoid
- Avoid offering intensive in-class training on Kaizen to firms in heavy industries, as they most likely don’t have the flexibility to easily introduce changes in their production processes and plant layouts on a continuous basis.