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Kaizen - short version

A small incremental improvement. Kaizen activity should involve everyone regardless of position.

Kaizen - long version

The term kaizen (改善, Japanese for "improvement") is a Japanese word adopted into English referring to a philosophy or practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, business activities in general, and even life in general, depending on interpretation and usage. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen typically refers to activities that continually improve all functions of a business, from manufacturing to management and from the CEO to the assembly line workers. 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 and has since spread to businesses throughout the world.


The Japanese word "kaizen" means simply "improvement," with no inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "Japanese philosophy"; the word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the mundane English word "improvement". However, given the common practice in Japan of labeling industrial or business improvement techniques with the word "kaizen" (for lack of a specific Japanese word meaning "continuous improvement" or "philosophy of improvement"), especially in the case of oft-emulated practices spearheaded by Toyota, the word kaizen in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, or even taken to mean a "Japanese philosophy" thereof. The discussion below focuses on such interpretations of the word, as frequently used in the context of modern management discussions.[citation needed]

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. The philosophy can be defined as bringing back the thought process into the automated production environment dominated by repetitive tasks that traditionally required little mental participation from the employees.

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. Kaizen on a broad, cross-departmental scale in companies, generates total quality management, and frees human efforts through improving productivity using machines and computing power.

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. 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.

In modern usage, a focused kaizen that is designed to address a particular issue over the course of a week is referred to as a "kaizen blitz" or "kaizen event". These are limited in scope, and issues that arise from them are typically used in later blitzes.

The original kanji characters for this word are: "改 善" (see 改 and 善)

In Japanese this is pronounced "kaizen".[4]

改 ("kai") means "change" or "the action to correct".
善 ("zen") means "good".
In Korean this is pronounced "ge sun"

改善 ("ge sun") means "improvement" or "change for the better"
In Mandarin this is pronounced "gǎi shàn":

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.


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 PDCA cyclesThe 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 (or 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.

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

The five main elements of kaizen
Personal discipline
Improved morale
Quality circles
Suggestions for improvement

Major results

Elimination of waste (muda) and incorporation of efficiency
The kaizen five - S framework for good housekeeping
Seiri - tidiness
Seiton - orderliness
Seiso - cleanliness
Seiketsu - standardized clean-up
Shitsuke - discipline



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