Kaizen, a Japanese term that basically translates to 'continuous improvement' or 'change to become good', is a management concept originated by the Japanese in order to continuously effect incremental changes for the better, involving everybody within the organization from workers to managers. Kaizen is aimed at producing more and more value with less and less wastes (higher efficiency), attaining better working environment, and developing stable processes by standardization.


This never-ending process of achieving small improvements within the company everyday is in contrast to trying to achieve breakthrough results from a large improvement once in a while.  Kaizen as a management technique is therefore more suitable for organizations with a collective culture that is trying to achieve long-term gains from a continuous supply of small and less radical contributions from its employees.


Kaizen implementation is said to operate on the following principles: 1) that human resources are the company's most important asset; 2) that success can not be achieved by some occasional radical changes alone, but more so by incremental yet consistently arriving improvements; and 3) that improvements must be based on a statistical or quantitative study of the performance of the process. 


Thus, under Kaizen, everyone is a valued contributor to the company's success, and must therefore be given the necessary education and training in order to contribute in his or her own way on a continuous basis.  Everyone in the organization must genuinely believe in the idea of Kaizen and strive to achieve one small goal at a time, each of which is considered a step towards the company's over-all success. 


Every person must therefore be willing to: 1) learn; 2) communicate; 3) be disciplined; 4) get involved; and 5) change in order to maximize gains from Kaizen. Management must also be able to support this Kaizen structure by aligning resources, metrics, rewards, and incentives to Kaizen principles, encouraging all employees to contribute in their own ways. 


Management programs that promote Kaizen include but are not limited to the following:  1) employee suggestion systems; 2) recognition systems for employees who exert effort for continuous improvement; 3) group-oriented suggestion or improvement systems like Quality Circles (small groups that perform quality improvement activities); 4) JIT; 5) 5-S; 6) Total Productive Maintenance; and 7) Total Quality Management.


Kaizen's Business Tenets:


1) Not a single day should pass without any kind of improvement anywhere in the company.

2)  Improvement strategies must be driven by customer requirements and satisfaction.

3)  Quality must always take a higher priority over profits.

4)  Employees must be encouraged to recognize problems and suggest improvements to address these problems.

5)  Problems must be solved by a collaborative and systematic approach through cross-functional teams.

6)  Process-oriented thinking (as opposed to results-oriented thinking) must be practiced by everyone, so that every process gets continuously improved from time to time.


See Also:   Lean Manufacturing Just-In-Time (JIT)TPMTQMSPC6-Sigma5S Process;   Poka-Yoke




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