See also

Kaizen a Japanese term which describes approach to continuous improvement by improving in small steps, long-term, one by one. The Kaizen is based on improving, not investment. The investment in new technology doesn't solve the problems. It only replaces old, well-known problems with new, yet unknown. Sometimes investment is necessary, but it shouldn't be a first solution to choose. The Kaizen means:



The Kaizen is change for the better

In Kaizen the quality the aim of daily life, not only during working hours. The improvement should be gradual and infinite. It should pursue the perfection. The employees should be continuously engaged in company's life and improvement of every aspect of the company (processes, products, infrastructure, etc.). This improvement throughout all aspects of life is related to the great attention that is paid to needs and requirements of customer.

Kaizen umbrella - methods and approaches used in Kaizen
Fig. 1. Kaizen umbrella - methods and approaches used in Kaizen

Kaizen focuses on teams (quality circles), promotes teamwork and team spirit, however it also recognizes the individual contribution. It emphasizes the engagement of each worker to the concept and vision of the company, so that employees will identify themselves with the enterprise, its culture and objectives.

The important aspects of Kaizen are:

  • What is wrong? not who is wrong?
  • How to eliminate waste (Muda)
  • How to decrease quality costs

The waste is being eliminated by empowering people with tools and provision of methodology for uncovering improvement opportunities and making small changes. This is a low cost approach, that uses simple quality control tools: Pareto, Ishikawa diagrams and PDCA cycle.

History of Kaizen method

The idea of Kaizen is stored deeply in the consciousness of Japanese. It stems from the roots of eastern philosophy. In that philosophy the most important is the way leading to excellence. The excellence itself can be out of reach, as an ideal. The success of Kaizen in Japan and other countries of the region is related to the philosophy. The problems with this idea and its methods (quality circles, commitment) in western countries become obvious when compared to the western (especially Greek) philosophy.

The history of contemporary Kaizen in production companies begins after World War II when Toyota first implemented quality circles in its production process. Quality circles were formed of workers at the production site. Taiichi Ohno, a former Executive Vice-President of Toyota Motor Company implemented Toyota Production System which aimed at system of continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety and leadership. This revolutionary concept became very popular in Japan in the 50s and contributed to later success on global market.

In 1986 Masaaki Imai introduced to the Western world the Japanese term Kaizen and made it famous through his book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success.

10 Principles of Kaizen process

Full description of principles is presented in spearate article: Kaizen principles.

  1. Say no to status quo
  2. If something is wrong, correct it
  3. Accept no excuses and make things happen
  4. Improve everything continuously
  5. Abolish old, traditional concepts
  6. Be economical
  7. Empower everyone to take part in problems' solving
  8. Before making decisions, ask "why" five times to get to the root cause
  9. Get information and opinions from multiple people
  10. Remember that improvement has no limits. Never stop trying to improve

Kaizen umbrella

The Kaizen umbrella (fig. 1.) is a set of methods and approaches that describe this philosophy:


Author: Magdalena Mleczkowska, Slawomir Wawak