What is Kaizen? - In simple terms Kaizen is Japanese for ‘a change for better’, which results in ‘continuous
improvement’. Kaizen ideology can be traced back to the 1980’s; Kaizen was first adopted in the West with the
influx of Japanese car manufacturers brought a wave of new thinking.
Kaizen logic was first enshrined in written text with Masaaki Imai’s book ‘KAIZEN - The Key To Japan’s
Competitive Success’ (1996) this book showed what the fundamental Kaizen logic is. We shall be exploring the
issues discussed in this text.
Kaizen uses the Japanese logic of bringing improvements internally from within the workplace; this goes
against the European ethics of using external sources such as consultants to improve processes.
Problems are identified at source, and resolved.
Small improvements which are realized can add up to major benefits for the business
Improvements, which lead to changes in the business quality, cost and delivery of
products, mean a greater level of customer satisfaction, and business growth.
By involving employees in looking at their environment to bring about change, results in
improved morale as people begin to find work easier and more enjoyable.
In order to implement Kaizen, a team needs to be set up to look at a workplace. The employees within the
Kaizen team need to be trained in Kaizen logic. The underlying of Kaizen is that it makes employees become
aware that by using their skills to improve a process, results in the business becoming more successful, which
lends itself to meaning more job security for the employee.
Kaizen requires bringing employees together to look at their jobs, sections, and processes, to realize changes
that will help performance. Whereas lean manufacturing looked at production issues, Kaizen can be applied to
Japanese production systems are inherently based on the logic that the employer will always look after the
employee, they can be applied to Western companies, but we have to bear in mind the social differences
between the cultures and not look merely at short term gains. Kaizen can be a good medium for improving
Due to western cultural differences between Japan and the West, it is advisable to have a team leader within
your Kaizen teams. This is to ensure the team behaves the way you want it to. Why? Well if you take a group of
closely working together individuals and tell them to stop working and look at their environment, they will need
someone to coax and guide them to bring about change, or else the team ethic will disintegrate.
The team leader will during all the Kaizen sessions be an equal member of the team, whilst at the same time, the
team leader will provide back-up support to the team. The team leader will be the individual who ensures
employees pursue the Kaizen ethics by having regular visits with the Kaizen team. Ideally the team leader
should come from within the employee teams, but it could be advisable to have a number of employees from
different departments of the company trained up in Kaizen logic and then placed in completely different
environments to lead teams.
The responsibility of the success or failure should be placed on each Kaizen team, please bear in mind Kaizen is
a long term strategy, which means employees will on regular intervals not be working in a value added manner,
but the work they are doing is for improving productivity in the long run.
The need for employees spending a lot of time in the Kaizen teams needs to be explained to their immediate
superiors, the business has to accept that Kaizen is for it’s benefit.
This is the means by which we get employees involved in Kaizen. The following pointers offer guidance for
anyone thinking about implementing Kaizen:
1. Decide upon a section of the business, upon which Kaizen will be implemented.
2. Decide upon a team leader for the team - ensure this person has all the correct training.
3. Bring the team together, and explain the theory behind Kaizen, let the team discuss problems
in the workplace.
4. Get the team to discuss as many issues as they would wish to tackle, remember it does not
have to be a single issue against which they should focus, several small issues are always
worthwhile looking at.
5. Let the team decide which issue(s) is going to be tackled. It is the team that knows best about
6. Let the team decide what the main causes of concern regarding the issue(s) are.
7. Let the team decide how the issue(s) will be measured - how has the current issue been
decided? And how will we monitor the present situation?
8. Information about the issue is gathered.
9. The team should now be in a position to come up with a target situation, let the team look at
the merits of different solutions, let the team decide upon target completion, implementation
10. Let the team, decide upon how to bring about the change to the workplace, is it going to be
visually communicated? Verbally communicated? (Work-practice changes), etc.
11. Finally let the team decide upon how they will monitor the changes they bring, to see how
successful they have been.
For a business to realize the true benefits of Kaizen it should form a long-term strategy, which accepts that by
involving employees in making their processes better, we all benefit. Getting employees to believe that they are
the real experts from which we can achieve ‘a change for the better’
Short-term Kaizen does not work. It could be stated that new quality policies such as Six Sigma, are an
extension of Kaizen. If your business is serious about implementing Kaizen into the workplace, then it has to a