Japanese term for “suggestion” or "change for the better" or "improvement", is an approach to
productivity improvement. Kaizen is intended for small & not a breakthrough improvement. It is
initiated normally by a person working in a particular area. It is normally thought that persons having
experience in an area can improve their area better than others through the means of Kaizen. Kaizen may
be implemented for a product, process, system or service.
Kaizen intended to eliminate the waste activities that add cost but do not add value, just-in-time delivery,
production load leveling of amount and types, standardized work, paced moving lines, right-sized
equipment, etc. In this aspect it describes something very similar to the assembly line used in mass
production. A closer definition of the Japanese usage of Kaizen is "to take it apart and put back together
in a better way."
Kaizen is often misunderstood and applied incorrectly, resulting in bad outcomes including, for example,
layoffs." Layoffs are not the intent of kaizen. Instead, kaizen must be practiced in tandem with the
"Respect for People" principle. Without "Respect for People," there can be no continuous improvement.
Instead, the usual result is one-time gains that quickly fade.
Importantly, kaizen must operate with three principles in place: process and results (not results-only);
systemic thinking (i.e. big picture, not solely the narrow view); and non-judgmental, non-blaming
(because blaming is wasteful).
The only way to truly understand the intent, meaning, and power of kaizen is through direct
participation, many, many times.
The Toyota Production System is known for kaizen, where all line personnel are expected to stop their
moving production line in the case of any abnormality, and suggestions for improvement are rewarded.
Kaizen often takes place one small step at a time, hence the English translation: "continuous
improvement", or "continual improvement." Yet radical changes for the sake of goals, such as just in
time and moving lines, also gain the full support of upper level management. Kaizen is one of the most
commonly used words in Japan.
The cycle of kaizen activity can be defined as: standardize an operation -> measure the standardized
operation (find cycle time and amount of in-process inventory) -> gauge measurements against
requirements innovate to meet requirements and increase productivity -> standardize the new, improved
operations continue cycle ad infinitum.
The "zen" in Kaizen emphasizes the learn-by-doing aspect of improving production. This philosophy is
focused in a different direction from the "command-and-control" improvement programs of the midtwentieth century. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and looking at the results, then
adjusting. Large-scale preplanning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments
in improvement, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements are suggested.
Kaizen means ongoing improvement involving everyone, including both managers and workers. The
Kaizen philosophy assumes that our way of life be it our working life, our social life, or our home life
deserves to be constantly improved.
Everyone participates in kaizen; people of all levels in an organization, from the CEO down, as well as
external stakeholders when applicable. The format for kaizen can be individual, suggestion system,
small group, or large group.