Kaizen Method | Kaizen Philosophy

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Gradual, continuous (incremental) change (improvement). Explanation of Kaizen.


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Kaizen 5S frameworkKaizenWhat is Kaizen? Definition

The Kaizen method of continuous incremental improvements is an originally Japanese management concept for gradual, continuous (incremental) change (improvement).

Kaizen is actually a way of life philosophy. It assumes that every aspect of our life deserves to be constantly improved. The Kaizen philosophy lies behind many Japanese management concepts such as: Total Quality Control, Quality Control circles, small group activities, labor relations.

Key elements of Kaizen are: quality, effort, involvement of all employees, willingness to change, and communication.

Japanese companies distinguish between: Innovation, a radical form of change, and Kaizen, a continuous form of change. Kaizen means literally: change (kai) to become good (zen).

The five foundation elements of Kaizen

  1. Teamwork.
  2. Personal discipline.
  3. Improved morale.
  4. Quality circles.
  5. Suggestions for improvement.

Out of this foundation, three key factors in Kaizen arise

  • Elimination of Waste (muda) and inefficiency.
  • The Kaizen 5S Framework for good housekeeping.
    1. Seiri, meaning tidiness (Eng: Straighten)
    2. Seiton, meaning orderliness (Eng: Sort)
    3. Seiso, meaning cleanliness (Eng: Sweep, Shine)
    4. Seiketsu, meaning standardized clean-up (Eng: Standardize)
    5. Shitsuke, meaning discipline (Eng: Self-Discipline, Sustain)
  • Standardization.

When should the Kaizen philosophy be applied? Although it is difficult to give generic advice it is clear that it fits well in gradual, incremental change situations that require long-term change and in collective cultures. More individual cultures that are more focused on short-term success are often more conducive to concepts such as Business Process Reengineering.

Kaizen compared to Business Process Reengineering

When Kaizen is compared with the BPR method it is clear the Kaizen philosophy is more people-oriented, more easy to implement, but requires long-term discipline and provides only a small pace of change. The Business Process Reengineering approach on the other hand is harder, technology-oriented, it enables radical change but it requires considerable change management skills.

Book: Masaaki Imai - Kaizen -

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