The Japanese word kaizen simply means “change for better”, with inherent meaning of either “continuous” or “philosophy” in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word “improvement”.However, given the common practice in Japan of labelling industrial or business improvement techniques with the word “kaizen”, particularly the practices spearheaded by Toyota, the word “kaizen” in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, especially those with a “Japanese philosophy”. The discussion below focuses on such interpretations of the word, as frequently used in the context of modern management discussions.
Two Kaizen approaches have been distinguished:
The former is oriented towards the flow of materials and information, and is often identified with the reorganization of an entire production area, even a company. The latter means the improvement of individual workstands. Therefore, improving the way production workers do their job is a part of a process kaizen. The use of the kaizen model for continuous improvement demands that both flow and process kaizens are used, although process kaizens are used more often to focus workers on continuous small improvements. In this model, operators mostly look for small ideas which, if possible, can be implemented on the same day. This is in contrast to traditional models of work improvement, which generally have a long lag between concept development and project implementation.
10 Principles of Kaizen
The Kaizen method follows ten specific principles, which are described below:
- Improve everything continuously.
- Abolish old, traditional concepts.
- Accept no excuses and make things happen.
- Say no to the status quo of implementing new methods and assuming they will work.
- If something is wrong, correct it.
- Empower everyone to take part in problem solving.
- Get information and opinions from multiple people.
- Before making decisions, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause. (5 Why Method)
- Be economical. Save money through small improvements and spend the saved money on further improvements.
- Remember that improvement has no limits. Never stop trying to improve.