Kaizen is a strategic approach based on the culture of continuous improvement within a company in order to proactively achieve small and incremental improvements to the manufacturing process. This approach is based on high cooperation and commitments levels and its efficient application can yield many benefits in the manufacturing process such as increased productivity, elimination of waste, minimization of defects and the promotion of innovation. The Kaizen approach has received systematic attention from a wide area of industries, including healthcare, finance, IT and software.

The origins of Kaizen

The word is derived from two Japanese words that translate as ‘improvement’ and originates back to post-World War II. At that time, some group of workers attempted to find a way to prevent defects at Toyota in accordance to W.Edwards who supported that quality control should be directed to the duties of line workers. Since then, Kaizen was brought into light and it has thereafter gained popularity by Masaaki Imai via his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success in 1986.

The Kaizen Philosophy

Kaizen goes against radical action plans that aim for drastic change and instead embraces continuous, small changes that lead to long-term, major benefits. There are a number of tools used within the Kaizen approach such as value stream mapping and total quality management (TQM). The Kaizen philosophy encourages employees to speak up and keep their ideas flowing – every employee’s feedback is valuable within this process.

Successful Kaizen Implementation

The successful use of Kaizen is principled on several factors, with the most important being:

  • Holistic Organizational Support: It is important that Kaizen is supported throughout the whole organization, from the CEO to the production.
  • Training: Ιn order for Kaizen to be embraced by the whole company, all workforce has to go through systematic training.
  • Kaizen aids: It’s important that Kaizen is reinforced through Kaizen boards, suggestion boxes, labelling, signage and other tools that encourage employees to communicate and have a say in the company.
  • Monitor improvement: Tracking progress and evaluating benefits are key areas to look out for.
  • Continuous improvement: Old and traditional concepts should be overlooked and instead new methods should be embraced. Improvement should never be paused.

Kaizen Benefits

Using Kaizen will upshot many benefits within the company, with some of the most notable being:

  • Increased productivity with less waste in areas such as waiting times, transportation, worker motion, overproduction and inventory.
  • Higher quality standards
  • Minimization of costs
  • Simplification of work processes.
  • Space utilization and improved production capacity
  • Improved employee satisfaction and appreciation that leads to improved retention and reduced employee turnover rates.
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction and in turn sales, profits and other KPIs.
  • Increased safety in the workplace and minimization of accidents.

Kaizen is based on the notion of continuous improvement. It works by identifying problems and opportunities and developing appropriate solutions in response. Yet, this is not a one-off process but rather a circular procedure that’s keeps identifying issues and resolving them through small, incremental changes.