"Kaizen" (, Japanese for "continuous improvement") is a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life. When applied to the workplace, Kaizen activities continually improve all functions of a business, from manufacturing to management and from the CEO to the assembly line workers. [cite book
last = Imai
first = Masaaki
title = Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success
location = New York, NY, USA
publisher = Random House
year = 1986
] By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see Lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses during the country's recovery after World War II, including Toyota, and has since spread to businesses throughout the world. [Europe Japan Centre, Kaizen Strategies for Improving Team Performance, Ed. Michael Colenso, London: Pearson Education Limited, 2000]


Kaizen is a daily activity, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work ("muri"), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes.

To be most effective kaizen must operate with threeFact|date=October 2007 principles in place:
*consider the process and the results (not results-only) so that actions to achieve effects are surfaced;
*systemic thinking of the whole process and not just that immediately in view (i.e. big picture, not solely the narrow view) in order to avoid creating problems elsewhere in the process; and
*a learning, non-judgmental, non-blaming (because blaming is wasteful) approach and intent will allow the re-examination of the assumptions that resulted in the current process.

People at all levels of an organization can participate in kaizen, 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. At Toyota, it is usually a local improvement within a workstation or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity. This group is often guided through the kaizen process by a line supervisor; sometimes this is the line supervisor's key role.

While kaizen (at Toyota) usually delivers small improvements, the culture of continual aligned small improvements and standardization yields large results in the form of compound productivity improvement. Hence the English usage of "kaizen" can be: "continuous improvement" or "continual improvement."

This philosophy differs from the "command-and-control" improvement programs of the mid-twentieth century. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. Large-scale pre-planning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements are suggested.


The original kanji characters for this word are:

In Japanese this is pronounced "kaizen".

* 改 ("kai") means "change" or "the action to correct".
* 善 ("zen") means "good".

In Chinese this is pronounced "gai shan":

* 改善 ("gǎi shàn") means "change for the better" or "improve".
* 改 ("gǎi") means "change" or "the action to correct".
* 善 ("shàn") means "good" or "benefit". "Benefit" is more related to the Taoist or Buddhist philosophy, which gives the definition as the action that 'benefits' the society but not one particular individual (i.e., multilateral improvement). In other words, one cannot benefit at another's expense. The quality of benefit that is involved here should be sustained forever, in other words the "shan" is an act that truly benefits others.


In Japan, after World War II, American occupation forces brought in American experts in statistical control methods and who were familiar with the War Department's Training Within Industry (TWI) training programs to restore the nation. TWI programs included Job Instruction (standard work) and Job Methods (process improvement). In conjunction with the Shewhart cycle taught by W. Edwards Deming, and other statistics-based methods taught by Joseph M. Juran, these became the basis of the kaizen revolution in Japan that took place in the 1950s. [cite journal
title = The Roots of Lean: Training within Industry--the origin of Kaizen
first = Jim
last = Huntzinger
journal = AME Target
volume = 18
issue = 1
month = First Quarter
year = 2002
url = http://www.leaninstituut.nl/publications/Roots_of_Lean_TWI.pdf
accessdate = 2008-05-09
pages = p. 13


The Toyota Production System is known for kaizen, where all line personnel are expected to stop their moving production line in case of any abnormality and, along with their supervisor, suggest an improvement to resolve the abnormality which may initiate a kaizen.

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".This is also known as the Shewhart cycle, Deming cycle, or PDCA.

Masaaki Imai made the term famous in his book, "Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success".

Apart from business applications of the method, both Anthony Robbins and Robert Maurer have popularized the kaizen principles into personal development principles. The basis of Robbins' CANI (Constant and Never-Ending Improvement) method in kaizen is discussed in his Lessons in Mastery series.

In their book "The Toyota Way Fieldbook", Brijesh Rawat, Jeffrey Liker, and David Meier discuss the Kaizen Blitz and Kaizen Burst (also called a Kaizen Event) approaches to continuous improvement. A Kaizen Blitz, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity. The basic concept is to identify and quickly remove waste. Another approach is that of Kaizen Burst, a specific Kaizen activity on a particular process in the value stream. [cite book
last = Liker | first = J.
coauthor s= D. Meier
year = 2006
title = The Toyota Way Fieldbook
location = New York, NY, USA
publisher = McGraw-Hill

ee also

*Balanced scorecard
*Business process reengineering
*Extreme Programming
*Overall equipment effectiveness
*Root cause analysis
*Six Sigma
*Statistical process control
*Theory of Constraints
*TOC Lean Six Sigma
*Total Productive Maintenance


Further reading

* cite book
last = Dinero
first = Donald
year = 2005
title = Training Within Industry: The Foundation of Lean
publisher = Productivity Press
isbn = 1-56327-307-1

* cite book
last = Emiliani | first = B.
coauthors = D. Stec; L. Grasso; J. Stodder
year = 2007
title = Better Thinking, Better Results: Case Study and Analysis of an Enterprise-Wide Lean Transformation
edition = 2e.
publisher = The CLBM, LLC
location = Kensington, CT, USA
isbn = 978-0-9722591-2-5

* cite book
last = Imai
first = Masaaki
year =1986
title = Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success
publisher = McGraw-Hill/Irwin
isbn = 0-07-554332-X

* cite book
last =Imai
first = Masaaki
title = Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management
publisher = McGraw-Hill
edition = 1e.
date = 1997-03-01
isbn = 0-07-031446-2

* cite book
last = Scotchmer
first = Andrew
years = 2008
title = 5S Kaizen in 90 Minutes
publisher = Management Books 2000 Ltd
isbn = 978-1-8525254-7-7

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