KAIZEN as originally defined in
the book of: "KAIZEN, the Key to Japan's Competitive Success",
by Mr. Masaaki Imai, is:
KAIZEN means improvement.
Moreover, KAIZEN means continuing improvement in personal life, home life,
social life, and working life. When applied to the workplace KAIZEN means
continuing improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike.
KAIZEN is a Japanese word
meaning gradual and orderly, continuous improvement. The KAIZEN business
strategy involves everyone in an organization working together to make
improvements 'without large capital investments'.
KAIZEN is a culture of sustained
continuous improvement focusing on eliminating waste in all systems and
processes of an organization. The KAIZEN strategy begins and ends with people.
With KAIZEN, an involved leadership guides people to continuously improve their
ability to meet expectations of high quality, low cost, and on-time delivery.
KAIZEN transforms companies into 'Superior Global Competitors'.
Two Elements of KAIZEN
There are two elements that
construct KAIZEN, improvement/change for the better and ongoing/continuity.
Lacking one of those elements would not be considered KAIZEN. For instance, the
expression of "business as usual" contains the element of continuity
without improvement. On the other hand, the expression of
"breakthrough" contains the element of change or improvement without
continuity. KAIZEN should contain both elements.
KAIZEN Concept in Our
KAIZEN, as you could learn from
the definition, is a common word and very natural to individual, continuous
improvement in personal life, home life, social life and working life. Everybody
deserves to and should be willing to improve himself/herself for the better
continually. "If a man has not been seen for three days, his friends should
take a good look at him to see what changes have befallen him" quoted from
the old Japanese saying, describes how natural KAIZEN is.
Maintenance, Innovation, and
In our concepts, three functions
should happen simultaneously within any organizations: Maintenance, Innovation,
and KAIZEN. By maintenance, we refer to maintaining the current status, the
procedures are set and the standards are implemented. People in the lower level
of organization mostly do that, they maintain their standards.
By Innovation, we refer to
breakthrough activities initiated by top management, buying new machines, new
equipment, developing new markets, directing R&D, change of strategy etc.
In the middle there is KAIZEN,
small steps but continuing improvement. KAIZEN should be implemented by the
lower/middle management and the workers, with the encouragement and direction of
the top. The top management responsibility is to cultivate a KAIZEN working
climates and cultures in the organization.
Not a day should go without some
kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company. When KAIZEN is adapted
in organizations and management perspectives, however, it is easier to talk
about it than to implement it. It is very natural that people will propose some
kind of change in their own work place, when they become unsatisfied with their
present conditions. Some of the improvements could be carried outright away.
Perhaps, the boss won't even notice them. However, when approval is required,
several kinds of responses from the boss could have taken place. The ideal
situation is that the boss encourages their subordinates to carry out their
ideas. The boss then appreciates the efforts or gives recognition. That's what
people expect when they propose something. The positive response given by the
boss will then develop trust with the subordinates and stimulate other
improvements. Cumulatively, this will create momentum for continuing
The Wet Blanket List
However, life in the
organization is not as easy. The boss could ask you a silly question like:
"it is not broken, why should we change it" or "the procedures is
fine with me, why should we changed it?". From your perspective, you know
that if you change it, the boss will blame you. The boss just did not want to
give you a try, with a lot of reasons and/or no reasons. You could not do
anything anymore, "the boss is always right" like the saying goes.
There are so many bosses like that. The book KAIZEN talks about the list called
"The Wet Blanket List". The bosses should encourage their
subordinates, but in a real life, the wet blankets put out the "fire"
of improvement suggestions. Here is the list of wet blankets:
THE WET BLANKET LIST
I am too busy to study
It's a good idea, but
the timing is premature
It is not in the budget
Theory is different from
Isn't there something
else for you to do ?
I think it doesn't match
It isn't our business;
let someone else think about it
Are you dissatisfied
with your work ?
It's not improvement,
it's common sense
I know the result, even
if we don't do it
I will not be held
accountable for it
Can't you think of a
better idea ?
Yes, I heard them from my boss,
you may say, however, reflect on yourself before you blame your boss. Your
subordinates may also hear them from you frequently. In an inefficient
organization, everybody tends to throw wet blankets everywhere. You could also
add more wet blankets from your own vocabulary, the list could be endless.
The Real Organizational Life
That's what really happens in
organizational life. Bosses discourage subordinates and the subordinates become
skeptical. They quit making proposals, suggestions and improvement and the
organization becomes very stagnant. Sometime, the bosses are aware of the
stagnation and buy a new machine, change the layouts, or even hire a bunch of
consultants to make a breakthrough. They do that because it's their function to
make breakthroughs. They change everything and rock the organization. However,
they don't change and still criticize their subordinate, tossing wet blankets to
the people. This is very important point, that change and improvement should
start from top management. Top management should change their own behavior when
dealing with subordinates.
Thus, KAIZEN Institute puts the
top management commitment as priority number one. Without such change, we could
not start KAIZEN in the organizations. Traditional management always says that
there are two classes of people in the organization. One is a group of thinkers
who think and innovate new ideas, and another is a group of workers who are
required to work with their hands. The worker class should not think of
anything, except work, work and work. There is an actual management philosophy
in parts of the world saying "factory workers should leave their brains by
the entrance gate prior to entering the factory". The message is clear,
management doesn't want your thoughts, they only need your hands and muscles,
however, this concept is confronting natural law.
Ten Basic Tips for KAIZEN
As you know by now, it is not
easy to implement the KAIZEN philosophy to where the culture is not solid to
adopt it. KAIZEN Institute can help to change the way of thinking of your people
and the culture and make a difference. Here is the first advice from us for you
to start with, the list of basic tips for KAIZEN to have the first step of
BASIC TIPS FOR KAIZEN
Think of how to do it,
not why it cannot be done.
Do not make excuses.
Start by questioning current practices.
Do not seek perfection.
Do it right away even if for only 50% of target.
Correct it right away,
if you make mistake.
Do not spend money for
KAIZEN, use your wisdom.
Wisdom is brought out
when faced with hardship.
Ask 'WHY?" five
times and seek root causes.
Seek the wisdom of ten
people rather than the knowledge of one.
KAIZEN ideas are
What is Kaizen
Written by NASA
The Kaizen Institute
Kaizen training company