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What is Kaizen?

By Steve Stephenson

Free Kaizen Guide

Kaizen is a system of continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety and leadership.

We'll look at Kaizen by answering three questions: What is Kaizen? What are the benefits of Kaizen? What do you need to do to get started using Kaizen principles?

Kaizen was created in Japan following World War II. The word Kaizen means "continuous improvement". It comes from the Japanese words 改 ("kai") which means "change" or "to correct" and 善 ("zen") which means "good".

Kaizen is a system that involves every employee - from upper management to the cleaning crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a once a month or once a year activity. It is continuous. Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, a total of 60 to 70 suggestions per employee per year are written down, shared and implemented.

In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste.

Suggestions are not limited to a specific area such as production or marketing. Kaizen is based on making changes anywhere that improvements can be made. Western philosophy may be summarized as, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The Kaizen philosophy is to "do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn't broken, because if we don't, we can't compete with those who do."

Kaizen in Japan is a system of improvement that includes both home and business life. Kaizen even includes social activities. It is a concept that is applied in every aspect of a person's life.

In business Kaizen encompasses many of the components of Japanese businesses that have been seen as a part of their success. Quality circles, automation, suggestion systems, just-in-time delivery, Kanban and 5S are all included within the Kaizen system of running a business.

Kaizen involves setting standards and then continually improving those standards. To support the higher standards Kaizen also involves providing the training, materials and supervision that is needed for employees to achieve the higher standards and maintain their ability to meet those standards on an on-going basis.

More information about Kaizen:

Benefits of Kaizen - What Kaizen can do for you. Read about how Kaizen helped Fleetwood and Sony.

Getting Started With Kaizen - A brief overview describing how to start to use Kaizen in your company.

5S - A 5S Program is often associated with Kaizen.

Lean Manufacturing - A case study at Mathers Controls.

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