PDCA, Kaizen and their role in IP management

Process management and the improvement of processes plays a big role in successful companies. In modern IP management also the quality of IP processes must be integrated into the process and quality management of the company. This is at least in Germany also required by the new DIN77006 for Quality in IP management. The typical tools for business process improvement are the PDCA cycle and the Kaizen approach. The basics of these concepts can be learned in the Certificate course on “Integrated IP and Innovation Management” at CEIPI. The next course starts on 15.09.2020.

The PDCA cycle is named after the four steps which are executed iteratively to improve processes. Those steps are Plan, Do, Check and Act. Historically, it was developed by Walter A. Shewhart in the 1930s and taught by W. Edwards Deming and also became known as Shewhart or Deming cycle. The cycle follows the empirical method of hypothesis, experiment, and evaluation, which should all be strictly separated to learn and improve processes. This method is today according to the German standard DIN77006 also required for IP processes.

The other method to improve processes is the Kaizen approach. The Kaizen approach in the business world was initially established by the Toyota Motor Corporation to improve their assembly lines and other processes after World War 2. This introduction to the business world was inspired by one of the inventors of the PDCA cycle W. Edwards Deming, who was an advisor for Japanese companies at that time. The line workers at the car assembly lines at Toyota are famously expected to completely stop the whole assembly line when an unexpected error occurs. Such an event sets an iterative improvement cycle in motion, where the assembly line workers and supervisors try to find ways to improve the process.

In business practice the Kaizen approach focusses on the idea to eliminate wasteful parts in the production process or other processes by the involvement of mindful workers and managers. This means that all people involved have to be inspired to continuously search for self-improvement and not just fulfill orders. So, it is an improvement process not only for processes but also for the working people. This process must not stop at the department level in the single silos but cover all hierarchical levels and business units.

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