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What Is Kaizen?

By Joel Bradbury

warehouse utilizing Kaizen continuous improvements

Kaizen is a lean manufacturing tool that improves quality, productivity, safety, and workplace culture. Kaizen focuses on applying small, daily changes that result in major improvements over time.

Kaizen first surfaced during the effort to rebuild Japan after World War II. At the time, several U.S. business consultants collaborated with Japanese companies to improve manufacturing. The collaboration resulted in the development of several new management techniques, one of which was Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good). Over time, it became widely known as “continuous improvement.”

Unlike many business practices, Kaizen’s strength comes from requiring all workers—from the CEO to the shop floor assistant—to participate by making suggestions to improve the business.

How Does Lean Kaizen Work?

Kaizen works by reducing waste (muda) and eliminating work processes that are overly difficult (muri). As a lean business practice, Kaizen succeeds when all employees look for areas to improve and provide suggestions based on their observations and experience.

From the beginning, it must be clear that all suggestions are welcome and that there will be no negative consequences for participating. Instead, employees are rewarded for changes that improve the workplace. Workers become more confident and invested in improving the company. They become leaders that continually look for areas that can be improved.


This is part 1 in our Kaizen educational series for businesses:

Getting Started with Kaizen

When first getting started with Kaizen, there are several things to keep in mind:

Kaizen Idea Board

  • Start with training. Everybody needs to know that Kaizen is becoming part of the workplace culture.
  • Support Kaizen from the top. Employees need to know that they will get support when they need it.
  • Get ideas flowing. Use Kaizen boards, quality circles, and suggestion boxes. Employees need a way to communicate effectively.
  • Keep ideas coming. Let employees implement their own suggestions when possible. This will encourage participation.
  • Remove barriers. Kaizen boards are especially useful here. They allow workers to post ideas, track their progress, and see the benefits of each improvement.

This will help your Kaizen program gain momentum and help it succeed. Workers will gain a sense of ownership over their tasks and become more involved in every aspect of the business.

Supporting Kaizen with Other Lean Tools

Kaizen PDCA

Kaizen provides one simple principle: look at how things can be improved, improve them, and then improve them again and again. You can do this by using Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), empowering workers to find problems, develop solutions and apply solutions in a continuous cycle.

In addition to PDCA, Kaizen can be supported by other lean tools. These lean tools generally fall under the Kaizen Umbrella and include:

  • Automation: Improve efficiency and make work easier through automation.
  • Kanban: Empower Kaizen by getting the inventory you need, when you need it.
  • 5S: Support continuous improvement by improving organization, standardization, and safety.
  • TPM: Eliminate downtime and boost overall production through preventive maintenance and training.

Part of what makes Kaizen work is that it’s flexible. It can be supported using lean tools that best fit your needs. Discover how you can use 5S to support Kaizen with the Best Practice Guide to 5S by Graphic Products. Improve safety, quality, and increase profits.

What Are the Benefits of Kaizen?

Using Kaizen will result in many benefits. Some of the expected benefits will be:

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality
  • Better safety
  • Lower costs
  • Improved customer satisfaction

Other benefits improve the overall culture of the company and increase employee retention:

  • Improved communication and cooperation
  • Improved morale and employee satisfaction
  • Greater personal investment in the company among employees and management.

What Industries Benefit from Kaizen?

While the birth of Kaizen is directly linked to manufacturing, it benefits other industries as well:

  • Finance
  • IT
  • Software
  • Healthcare

How Can You Start a Kaizen Program?

Need more information about Kaizen and how to get started? Graphic Products offers an in-depth Best Practice Guide to Kaizen to help improve efficiency, quality, and profits.

Proper labeling and signage play an important role in Kaizen by enabling workers to:

  • Identify the correct workflow
  • Perform tasks correctly
  • Avoid hazards

Overall, labels and signs help reduce injuries and improve workplace safety. DuraLabel industrial label and sign printers by Graphic Products can help you develop clear, custom visual communication. With a variety of printers and more than 50 specialty supplies, you’ll find the right tools for your needs.

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