Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “improvement.” It represents ongoing, incremental improvement – small changes that add up to satisfy customers’ desire for better quality at a lower cost as soon as possible. Kaizen focuses on eliminating the waste and discrepancies that lower quality, increase costs and delay product deployment. The kaizen 4M checklist -- men, machines, material and method -- aids in evaluating areas where small changes can focus improvement efforts in the three key areas of quality, cost and delivery.


You must assign the right worker to a job. The worker should be able to maintain good relations with other workers when working on group projects. Workers must be qualified to do the work to which they are assigned and have appropriate experience. They must follow the standards set for their activities and their efficiency must be acceptable. They must be problem-conscious; that is, they must stay alert to the potential for waste and take responsibility for seeking solutions to problems.


Your equipment or facilities must be adequate for the job, both in capacity and capabilities. If there is enough of the right type of equipment to do the job, ensure it is in working order or procure additional equipment to handle an excess load. If equipment problems can interrupt the process, consider using suitable machinery that does not require frequent adjustment. If the equipment requires precision adjustments, make the adjustments in a timely manner. Equipment that requires fuel, lubrication or inspection must be adequately fueled and lubricated, and required inspections must be kept up-to-date.


Quality standards for materials must be adequate, and you must check the materials as they arrive from the supplier for impurities, irregularities, damage or waste. While kaizen proposes minimizing the number of suppliers, this allows a supplier’s quality problems to propagate through your system. Several companies that relied on a single suppler for materials or systems, including Boeing, Caterpillar and Toyota, sustained significant difficulties when those materials and systems failed. An adequate supply of the correct materials is essential to sustain the service or manufacturing process. Workers and management must also make adequate provision for storage and material handling.


In evaluating methods, you must determine whether the work standards are adequate and safe. You must find an efficient method that provides a good product. The sequence of the steps used in the work must allow for the most efficient assembly of the product or for providing the service efficiently. The physical setup of the work area – whether a desk or a factory workstation – should maximize the flow of the project, and there should be sufficient lighting and ventilation for workers to perform their work efficiently. Arrange workstations so that the work flows evenly with a minimum of disruption and adequate communication.