March 29, 2012

Foundation of Kaizen

According to Six Sigma, Kaizen is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement, taken from the words “Kai” means continuous and “zen” means improvement. Masaaki Imai published a book in 1986 titled, The key to Japan’s Competitive Success, received a lot of attention from management experts around the world about a term called Kaizen which was used in Japan’s management philosophy. Mr. Imai defined it as the process of gradual and incremental improvement in a pursuit of perfection of business activities. (Smadi) Kaizen stresses on small and continuous improvements to the existing process without a need for major investment cost. Everyone in the organization is involved in the effort and the improvement process with the objective of improving productivity and reducing defects. The goal is to get all of the workers focused on suggesting small improvements that over time lead to big improvements in productivity, quality, safety, waste reduction and leadership. In the book, How To Do Kaizen: A New Path to Innovation by Bunji Tozawa and Norman Bodek, they provide a story about a company that used Kaizen strategies to get the employees to implement 96 ideas per person. The book also heavily discussed and stressed the important success factor was that supervision is critical. They stated that supervision is not only critical but supervisors must listen, praise, and thank employees for their efforts. In a basic concept this is getting people involved in the process of reengineering and improving the adoption rate of change in an organization. Senior management at Dana Corporation viewed the task of asking their employees, “what do you think?” as a very unusual idea in comparison to the American industry. What Dana Corp. found out was that instead of looking for the big idea that would save money, they ended up with lots of small ideas and created an atmosphere of creative thinking. (Bodek, p44)

Practical Use

There are three essential elements to Kaizen. First, the employee who comes up with the idea must be involved in the implementation of the idea. Second, the solution should be defined in a simple way. Ideally it should be only 75 words and include the problem, the solution, and the benefit. Third, share the idea within the company. (Bodek) The automotive manufacture Honda states in its’ company philosophy that respect for the individual is the foundation of their company’s principles. This type of Kaizen thought is also in Toyota’s theme which states that every Toyota team member is empowered with the ability to improve their work environment. These types of statements fuel a Kaizen culture in their organization that embraces change and constant improvement to remain competitive in their industry. In my organization, the concept of draw, see, think and plan, do, check, act is a Kaizen tool used to help with idea creation. A person should visualize or dream of an idea followed by evaluating reality versus the dream. Think of a way to compromise in the middle and create a plan to accomplish the idea. The concept of do it, check it, adjust and act again is the Kaizen way of continuous improvement. There are also several other tools that are used to include visual management or simply put, making problems visible. Another example is the concept of putting quality first and improving performance in a three dimensional view of quality, cost, and delivery.

Kaizen and Business Process Engineering

Kaizen techniques and management principles are useful tools for business process engineering. Organizations that want to create an environment and a company culture of change and reducing waste can use Kaizen philosophies. Process reengineering requires employees to question why and how is a process done. The quick and easy steps of having the employee implement the idea, keep it simple, and share is an easy process of using Kaizen to redesign a business process.

By: Andre Swain

Work Cited:

“Kaizen done better.” Industrial Engineer May 2010: 15. General OneFile. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

Smadi, Sami Al. “Kaizen strategy and the drive for competitiveness: challenges and opportunities.” Competitiveness Review 19.3 (2009): 203+

Bodek, Norman. “Quick And Easy Kaizen.” IIE Solutions 34.7 (2002): 43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.


6 Responses to “Kaizen”

  1. Buck Huffman said

    I like the idea of a bottom up structure of ideas. I think the people on the ground know best what’s going on and a management structure that is setup around Kaisen is receptive to that input. I also think this is a good way for organizations that make incremental, low hanging fruit wins. That’s always good for moral.

  2. Robert Hanson said

    excellent stuff–thank you so much for bringing this to my attention


  3. David George said

    “small improvements that over time lead to big improvements in productivity, quality, safety, waste reduction and leadership” It would be refreshing if more companies took this approach. We always seem to jump in and do a complete rewrite when it isn’t always necessary.

  4. Dhinakaran Gurusamy said

    Very good information. Involving every employees, from executives to the cleaning crew to come up with small improvement suggestion is impressive. It really help the company to grow and keep the employees happy in long run.

  5. Blane McCarthy said

    Very good post. Thanks for the insights. Sounds like the level of empowerment and encouragement would make for an appealing work environment. I would imagine the employees have a real sense of ownership.

  6. Mike Gann said

    Kaizen fascinates me mainly because of its roots in Eastern thought process as opposed to Western. Many times, especially in larger American corporations, most employees simply take what’s given to them and are afraid to speak up. Or, they may feel powerless; pitted against a monolithic corporate power structure. The thought that ‘every employee is empowered’ resonates.

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