Saturday, August 16, 2003

Tiger cubs and other offspring

ACCORDING to the Japanese business philosophy, kaizen, the working practices are assessed through quality circles and continuous restructuring of jobs. The result is increased efficiency and productivity along with reduced levels of boredom and greater influence over the manufacturing process for the employees. The emphasis is on continuing improvement, which has spread beyond the motor manufacturing industry to the general vocabulary of the business world. Kaizen works in harmony with kanban, just-in-time and quality circles, that are also new additions to the business vocabulary.

Kanban is a direct borrowing from Japanese and means a sign or poster. Originally used by the motor industry, kanban as a system ensured that components arrived from the suppliers at the time they were required for assembly, thus minimising factory storage and surplus. When kanban entered the general business lexicon, it referred to a card or sheet displaying a set of manufacturing specifications and requirements that is circulated to suppliers and sent along a production line to regulate the supply of components. So, kanban is a coordinated manufacturing system that employs such a card, also called the just-in-time system, where all components arrive at, practically, in the nick of time, the last possible moment. This variety of manufacturing has led to non-manufacturing applications of the term as well, words like just-in-time printing and just-in-time retailing.

Tiger cubs
August 2, 2003
Old means new
July 19, 2003
July 5, 2003
June 21, 2003
New avatars
June 7, 2003
May 24, 2003
Once upon a time...
May 10, 2003
Gifts from writers
April 26, 2003
Creative destruction
April 12, 2003
Language triumphs
March 29, 2003
March 15, 2003

The concept of quality circles is based on the Japanese belief that it is the workers rather than the senior managers who are the most familiar with the details of a company’s working practice and therefore the best qualified to suggest improvements. The quality circle is a group of employees that meets regularly to consider ways of resolving problems and improving production in an organisation. Frequently called QC, its emphasis is on participation and cooperation in problem solving, a part of a continuous quest for improvement, based on kaizen.

The popular acceptance of these related concepts has resulted in certain changes in many areas of the manufacturing industry, changes that have led to the widening of the lexicon along with the use of these terms in other areas. One significant new dimension is the whole idea of outsourcing. In keeping with the just-in-time drive towards greater cost effectiveness, an increasing number of businesses choose to concentrate their resources on their primary activities, shutting down those secondary and support operations that can be acquired from outside resources. The application of outsourcing has spread beyond the supply of components to the purchase of specialist services, especially those requiring high levels of technological expertise. This is perceived as allowing firms to take advantage of the very latest developments and expertise, offered at competitive rates.


The Hindi pranali refers to a particular system, organisational structure or policy; as in shikshapranali. The Sanskrit pranali has a more literal meaning; it refers to a channel or a drain for the movement of water. The figurative idea of the pranali giving direction to water, acting as a medium of transport was taken up by Hindi to create pranali, movement in a specific direction, along a fixed system. The word is quite like the English ‘through proper channel’; channel comes from the Latin canalis, a pipe or groove. Coincidences in language, like this one, strengthen further the linguists’ conviction that no language is superior or inferior, all originate in the same human experience.