It comes from the Japanese words ‘Kai’ meaning ‘change’ and “Zen” meaning ‘better, the combination of these words mean ‘change for betterment’. Once it is implemented as a continuous cycle it leads to “continuous improvement”. It's a soft and gradual method opposed to more usual western habits to scrap everything and start with new.  

It’s a philosophy that defines management’s role in continuously encouraging and implementing small improvements involving everyone. It is the process of continuous improvement in small increments that make the process more efficient, effective, under control and adaptable. Improvements are usually accomplished at little to no expense, without sophisticated techniques or expensive equipment. It focuses on simplification by breaking down complex processes into their sub-processes and then improving them.

The Kaizen improvement focuses on the use of   

  • Value-added and non-value-added work activities. Muda; which refers to seven classes of waste i.e. over production, delays, excessive transportation, excessive and non value-added processing, excess inventory, wasted motion and defective parts.
  • Documentation of standard operating procedures.
  • The five S’s for workplace organization (five Japanese words)
  1. Seiko               -           proper arrangement
  2. Seiton              -           orderliness
  3. Seiketso          -           personal cleanliness
  4. Seiso               -           cleanup
  5. Shitsuke          -           discipline

  • Visual management by means of visual displays that everyone in the plant can use for better communication.
  • Just-in-time principles to produce only the units in the right quantities, at the right time and with the right resources.
  • Poka-yoke (fail-safing or mistake-proofing) - to prevent or detect errors.
  • Team dynamics, which include problem solving, communication skills and conflict resolution.

Kaizen relies heavily on a culture that encourages suggestions by operators who continually try to incrementally improve their job or process. An example of Kaizen type improvement would be the change in color of welding booth from black to white to improve operator’s visibility. This change results in a small improvement in weld quality and a substantial improvement in operator satisfaction.

Kaizen is controlled; it is not acceptable to let anybody change designs, layouts or standards for some pretended "improvement". Most often Kaizen is controlled by improvement groups and everybody, regardless of rank or position, is encouraged to suggest through suggestion submitting system. Suggestions will be discussed by authoritative committee. Suggestions likely to be turned into application are usually rewarded according to the global gain. Improvement idea can be a response to a problem exposed by Kaizen committee or come out spontaneously


Kaizen refers to continual improvements. Just carrying out business as usual contains the element of continuity but lacks the idea of improvement. Innovation refers to change or improvement but lacks continuity. Innovation with its strong innovative meaning is often a preferred way to carry out changes, improvements. Yet the Kaizen way and innovation are very different, the Kaizen approach is to make better use of existing resources.

While Kaizen uses small steps, conventional know-how and a lot common sense, innovation comes in big steps and pursues technological breakthroughs. Kaizen is effort-based, while innovation is investment-based. Kaizen constantly reviews the process to check results consistency with targets, while innovation looks for results only. Are they slow to come or seem out of reach? the whole process might be changed.

The benefits to applying the principles of Kaizen are manifold. Solutions emphasize commonsense, low-cost approaches and continual adjustment, thus improvement becomes possible and further desirable. It is not even always necessary to gain upper management’s approval to make changes.


Kaizen involves every employee in making change--in most cases small, incremental changes. It focuses on identifying problems at their source, solving them at their source, and changing standards to ensure the problem stays solved. It's not unusual for Kaizen to result in 25 to 30 suggestions per employee, per year and to have over 90% of those implemented.

For example, Toyota is well-known as one of the leaders in using Kaizen. In 1999 at one U.S. plant, 7,000 Toyota employees submitted over 75,000 suggestions, of which 99% were implemented.

These continual small improvements add up to major benefits. They result in improved productivity, improved quality, better safety, faster delivery, lower costs, and greater customer satisfaction. On top of these benefits to the company, employees working in Kaizen -based companies generally find work to be easier and more enjoyable--resulting in higher employee moral and job satisfaction, and lower turn-over.   

With every employee looking for ways to make improvements, you can expect results such as:

  • Kaizen Reduces Waste in areas such as inventory, waiting times, transportation, worker motion, employee's skills, over production, excess quality and in processes.
  • Kaizen improves space utilization, product quality, use of capital, communications, production capacity and employee retention.
  • Kaizen provides immediate results. Instead of focusing on large, capital intensive improvements, Kaizen focuses on creative investments that continually solve large numbers of small problems. Large, capital projects and major changes will still be needed, and Kaizen will also improve the capital projects process, but the real power of Kaizen is in the on-going process of continually making small improvements that improve processes and reduce waste


Kaizen is a daily activity whose purpose goes beyond improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates physical and mental hard work and teaches people how to do rapid experiments using the scientific method and how to learn to see and eliminate waste(Muda) in business processes.

Kaizen is often misunderstood and applied incorrectly, resulting in bad outcomes including, for example, layoffs. This is called "kaiaku" - literally, "change for the worse." Layoffs are not the intent of Kaizen. Instead, Kaizen must be practiced in tandem with the "Respect for People" principle. Without "Respect for People," there can be no continuous improvement. Instead, the usual result is one-time gains that quickly fade.

Importantly, Kaizen must operate with three principles in place: process and results (not results-only); systematic thinking (i.e. big picture, not solely the narrow view); and non-judgmental, non-blaming (because blaming is wasteful).

The only way to truly understand the intent, meaning, and power of KAIZEN is through direct participation, many, many times. The implementing of  kaizen involes earnestly following these steps   

  1. Prepare people to accept change for the betterment.
  2. Think of how to do it, and NOT why in cannot be done.
  3. Do not make excuses. Start by questioning current procedures.
  4. Do not seek perfection. Do it even if for only 50% of the target.
  5. Correct mistakes at once.
  6. Do not spend too much money for Kaizen.
  7. Wisdom is brought out when faced with hardship.
  8. Ask “WHY?” at least five times, and see root causes.
  9. Seek the wisdom of ten people, rather than the knowledge of one.
  10. Kaizen ideas are indefinite.


Kaizen is gradual improvement, though it may be implemented incorrectly as well, leading to a failure. 
• Go around telling everyone you have a great program to save the company — “right now.”

• Believe that you know all the questions and have all of the answers to make Continuous Improvement work in your company.

• Begin before discussing with your key people to decide what you want to accomplish.

• Use your own personal vision to lead the effort instead of developing a set of long range goals for your company.

• Believe in changing processes and systems alone without any attention to the company culture.

• Expect and tolerate no failures or set-backs.