What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a set of tools and an attitude of mind. By using the minds of all employees, the organisation will continually grow in competitiveness.

The word Kaizen is Japanese and has been translated into numerous English equivalents.

  • KAI = Change
  • ZEN = Better

The translation generally used in lean organisations is “Continuous Improvement”. Customer demands and expectations are constantly changing – today’s high standard becomes tomorrow’s norm; therefore, continuous improvement is essential to maintain competitiveness.

Methods of Improving business performance - Kaizen

Traditionally the performance of an organisation is improved by buying a new machine or system. This is usually expensive and occurs infrequently. The new equipment rarely lives up to expectations and performance reduces over time.

Kaizen takes a different approach to improving performance. The workforce in the organisation is trained and empowered. A new mindset is adopted of continually improving the process by solving problems at the root cause; eliminating waste; and looking for new ways to improve. Although only small improvements are made, the cumulative effect is considerable. The performance of the business never stops improving, keeping the company one step ahead of the competition.

Kaizen uses the real experts – the people that do the job. Traditionally “outsiders” are brought into an area, change it and leave. Often the performance of the area doesn’t meet expectations, because the “outsiders” didn’t truly understand the area and its problems. Also, the employees in the area don’t understand or own the changes.

Using Kaizen to make improvements is relatively inexpensive and fast. Areas for large improvement will still be identified; however, the performance shouldn’t drop after their introduction as the real experts will have ensured the improvements were sustainable, appropriate and standardised.

The Kaizen Scrum

  • The Kaizen process brings together all the participants in a particular process.
  • Wastes are identified in the current process and speedy changes implemented, to realise and sustain significant improvements.
  • Kaizen is the catalyst used to change the organisational culture and establish a ‘lean organisation’.
  • Kaizen applies to any area within a business, and not just manufacturing.

Improvement tools

There are a number of tools that aid the process of continuous improvement; one which is commonly used is the Deming Cycle (also known as The Improvement Cycle):

The Deming Cycle PDCA

The cycle doesn’t stop there; once an improvement or change has been considered, then a new improvement is identified, and the cycle repeated.

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