Kaizen Continuous Improvement -Definition, Kaizen Process

Kaizen Continuous Improvement -Definition, Kaizen Process


Kaizen literally means improvement – improvement in your personal life, your spiritual life and your working life. When a company adopts the Kaizen model, it strives to improve its processes in small but meaningful ways. And not just a onetime improvement, but a commitment to excellence by constantly testing and improving the work flow, day in and day out. Kaizen was first introduced in the Toyota manufacturing plant in Japan in the early 1950s, and it has since become one of the country‟s main reasons for its success. In Japan, kaizen is a way of life in the workplace, from the office of the CEO all the way down to shop apprentice. They take it very seriously, and for good reason. Kaizen has led them from a defeated wartime nation to one of the strongest industrialized countries in the world. But the best thing about kaizen – and the biggest reason that every company should adopt it – is that it does not rely on expensive innovative solutions. Just the opposite is true. The core principal of kaizen is to make small, immediate improvements in the processes and standards of the workplace. But not just one improvement.

In Japanese management, kaizen means “continuous improvement” involving the entire workforce from the top management to middle managers and workers. The origin of Japan‟s kaizen movement was the quality control method imported from the United States (US) in the post WW2 period. Japan assimilated and developed this as its own management practice method which later even surpassed performance in the US. This adapted method, which became known as kaizen, spread rapidly among Japanese companies including a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises. It subsequently spread overseas as Japanese business activities expanded abroad and Japanese companies began to build production networks with local companies.


Kaizen (Kai „Zen) is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement, taken from words ‘Kai’, which means continuous and ‘zen’ which means improvement. Some translate ‘Kai’ to mean change and ‘zen’ to mean good, or for the better.
Kaizen is one of the most commonly used words in Japan. It is in the newspapers, on the radio and TV. Japanese society is bombarded daily with statements regarding the Kaizen of almost anything. In business, the concept of Kaizen is so deeply ingrained in the minds of both managers and workers that they often do not even realize that they are thinking Kaizen. The key difference between how change is understood in Japan and how it is viewed in the West lies in the Kaizen concept. This concept is so natural and obvious to many Japanese managers that they often do not even realize that they possess it! This explains why companies are constantly changing in Japan. The Kaizen concept is very weak in Western companies, where it is often rejected without knowing what it really entails. This explains why American and European factories may go years without changing.

In sport, the kaizen cycle leads to continual improvement in performance.


kaizen Process
kaizen Process

To understand what kaizen is, it may be helpful to look at the differences between the traditional western methods of improvement and kaizen in the west, innovation is king. When management wants to get better results from their workers, they introduce the latest technology, or incorporate the newest management technique that they saw at the last trade show. Big changes equal big results – that‟s the mantra that is traditionally chanted in the west. The result is often a big expenditure of money and time and in the end, the results are not that great. Kaizen is different. Kaizen is the tortoise compared to the western hare. It relies on long-term, long lasting and no dramatic changes. “Small steps done many times” is the method that they rely on. It is a group effort – everyone is involved and contributing. It requires a small investment of money, but a large investment in effort, cooperation and training. If done correctly, the results are often amazing. Kaizen is a process. It is not a onetime adjustment made to make this quarter‟s numbers look better. It must become a daily part of every worker‟s routine. It must become part of the company‟s culture so managers and employees are constantly looking for small ways to improve the work flow. When that happens, you will have an organization that has become lean, mean and efficient. This is the essence of kaizen. This is its greatest strength.

Continuous Improvement – Kaizen 

In any business, an employee‟s work is based on existing standards imposed by management. Improvement refers to improving those standards. The Japanese perception of management boils down to one precept to maintain and improve standards. Improving standards means establishing higher standards. Once this is done, it becomes management’s maintenance job to see that the new standards are observed. Lasting improvement is achieved only when people work to higher standards. Maintenance and improvement have thus become inseparable for most Japanese managers. The higher up the manager is, the more he is concerned with improvement. At the bottom level, an unskilled worker working at a machine may spend all his time following instructions. However, as he becomes more proficient at his work, he begins to think about improvement. He begins to contribute to improvements in the way his work is done, either through individual suggestions or through group suggestions. Nobody can dispute the value of improvement. Whenever and wherever improvements are made in business, these improvements are eventually going to lead to improvements in such areas as quality and productivity. The starting point for improvement is to recognize need, and this comes from recognition of a problem. Kaizen emphasizes problem-awareness and provides clues for identifying problems.


Kaizen starts with a problem or, more precisely, with the recognition that a problem exists. Where there are no problems, there is no potential for improvement. A problem in business is anything that inconveniences people downstream, either people in the next process or ultimate customers. The issue is that the people who create the problem are not directly inconvenienced by it, and therefore are not sensitive to problem. In day-to-day management situations, the first instinct, when confronted with a problem, is to hide it or ignore it rather than to face it squarely. This happens because a problem is a problem, and because nobody wants to be accused of having created the problem. By resorting to positive thinking, however, we can turn each problem into a valuable opportunity for improvement. Where there is a problem, there is potential for improvement. When a problem that has been identified must be solved. When a problem is solved and standards have been surpassed, then new standards must be set.

Sachin Thorat

Sachin is a B-TECH graduate in Mechanical Engineering from a reputed Engineering college. Currently, he is working in the sheet metal industry as a designer. Additionally, he has interested in Product Design, Animation, and Project design. He also likes to write articles related to the mechanical engineering field and tries to motivate other mechanical engineering students by his innovative project ideas, design, models and videos.

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