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What is Kaizen? (PDF included) Definition, Principles, PDCA Cycle, 5S Framework, Advantages, Disadvantages, and Example.

The definition of kaizen comes from two Japanese words: ‘kai’ meaning ‘change’ and ‘zen’ meaning ‘good’. That means change for the better. However, Kaizen means “continuous improvement” through its association with lean methodology.

This Japanese philosophy was first brought in by Toyota back in the 1980s and has since been followed by thousands of companies around the world. This lean transformation encourages an improvement culture that escalates quality, efficiency, and profitability.

Some key objectives of the kaizen philosophy include quality control, just-in-time delivery, standardized work, the use of efficient equipment, and the elimination of waste. The overall goal of kaizen is to make minor changes over time to create improvements within a company. That doesn’t mean transformations happen slowly; it simply recognizes that minor changes now can have huge effects in the future.

Improvements can come from any employee. Everyone has a stake in the company’s success and everyone should strive, at all times, to help make the business model better.

Kaizen Definition

Kaizen is an ideology that supports continuous, incremental process changes that have a high level of efficiency. It can help you enhance the way you work personally, by excluding various types of “waste”.

 Kaizen is also defined as a continuous effort by every employee (from the CEO to field staff) to ensure the improvement of all processes and systems of a particular organization.

Principles of Kaizen

Here are some important principles of kaizen:

1. Start questioning the Best Practices

It is easy to justify the past. All cultures have some specific tradition and system created to show respect for elders and carry over certain practices from generation to generation. There is purpose in learning from the past, but too often, old ways of working turned into an excuse for the status quo. For Kaizen to happen, everybody must be ready to challenge the current operation politely and curiously.

2. See Problems as an Opportunity

Opportunities like that are right in front of you, you just have to understand them. All the big issues your company is facing are nothing but big opportunities to grow.

Problems are opportunities to bring out solutions, to grow, to improve yourself, to contribute ideas, to contribute values, develop your skills, and accordingly become better, more valuable, earn more, be more attractive, become stronger, and so on. 

3. Develop Wisdom When Faced With Hardship

If you want to yourself constantly, you need to develop wisdom as much as possible. Wisdom is basically the capacity to think and act using knowledge, experience, intelligence, common sense, and insight.

Wisdom is about a deep understanding of things, incorporating tolerance for the uncertainties of life and its difficulties. 

So, you shouldn’t fear hardship, but see it as an opportunity for the fastest improvement and growth.

You make moral decisions based on extensive experience. You develop experience based on making poor decisions. Making several poor decisions gradually leads to making good and wise decisions. You can’t just be born wise.

4. Maintain Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude is one of the most significant rules of Kaizen. Only by having a positive mind, you can see new opportunities to grow yourself and your organization. 

Only by keeping a positive perspective, you can also foster the motivation to implement change and go after a better organizational environment.

There is always a move you can make towards progress, no matter how tough the situation is. That’s how kaizen experts think.

5. Stop Making Excuses and Eliminate Can’t

There’s always an improvement that can be performed if you keep innovating hard enough. Don’t use your mental power to look for excuses why things cannot be done. 

If your mind feels cornered, and you do not know what your next step might be, and all you can see are excuses, then you must first start by freeing your mind. There are thousands of ways how you can innovate, improve, and look for productive solutions.

Remember, your mind is like a parachute. It only functions when it’s open.

6. Creativity Before Capital

There are two ways of finding ideas for positive change. You can use the money to hire individuals, invest in advanced technologies, etc. or you can utilize your own creativity. 

At some point, it is good to pay for new ideas, knowledge, and technologies, but you have to start with your own creativity that can bring positive changes in your workplace and environment.

There’s no way a change will be carried out forever if there isn’t enough motivation on the table. If sufficient motivation is present, there will be many creative concepts for positive change. 

7. Understand the Data and Working Principles

Every change should be made according to the data. You anyway have to measure whether you have really discovered a new way to do things better. You can’t just guess, because incorrect guesses are the mother of all disasters. 

You must be consumed with data, metrics, dashboards, and measuring when making improvements. You can change only the things you measure.

You must have the knowledge of what exactly you’re trying to improve and on which metrics that improvement is based. When implementing a new and positive change, it should always be in connection with the one metric that signifies most at a certain time in a certain state. 

8. Learn by Taking Action

You learn the most by doing actions. It’s called “Leaving the building” in English and “Genchi Gembutsu” in Japanese. You can read 10 books on how to swim, but it can never be equal to actually doing it. 

You can’t carry out change based only on theoretical knowledge. You must grow into a master of validated learning and superior observations of how things work.

9. Choose A Simple Solution

Simplicity is always better than complexity. Implementing change is tough, and implementing complex change is even harder, if far from impossible. 

Therefore, prefer a simple solution you can start implementing immediately. A well-implemented minor change will motivate you to implement new and bigger changes.

By doing so, you will extend your capacity and energy for more complex change. A little improvement can always lead to bigger improvement, but in the beginning, forget about the big steps and start small. 

10. Correct Your Mistakes Right Away

When innovating and upgrading things, you regularly make mistakes. You constantly fail and explore options that don’t function. 

But mistakes and failure are not to be worried about. Failure is an essential part of every achievement. That being said, there is one vital rule to believe, and that is to correct your mistakes right away.

Don’t let mistakes expand and turn into something unmanageable. You must have the courage to admit you’ve made a mistake and correct it immediately.

PDCA Cycle

Improvement basically follows the PDCA cycle, which stands for “plan-do-check-act.”

The “plan” fraction consists of mapping out the changes, so that everyone knows what to expect when teams seek to solve a problem. 

The “do” function stands for implementing the best solution to fix the problem.

The “check” step comprises figuring out the solution to the problem to see if it worked.

When the company performs the “act”, it figures out whether the solution should become a company standard, or if it requires further changes.

Kaizen 5S framework

A 5S framework is a critical part of the Kaizen system and establishes an ideal physical workplace. The 5Ses focus on creating visual order, organization, cleanliness, and standardization to improve profitability, efficiency, service, and safety.

Let us understand the five S of Kaizen:

SEIRI – SEIRI stands for classify. According to Seiri, employees should classify and organize things well. Identify the items as “Necessarily”, ”Critical”, ”Most Important”, “Not required now”, “Useless”, and so on. Throw what all is worthless. Keep separately what all is not required at the moment. Items which are critical and most necessary should be kept in a secure place.

SEITION – Seition means Organize. Research says that employees spoil half of their precious time looking for items and important documents. Every item should have its own space and must be placed in its place only.

SEISO – The word “SEISO” stands for shine the workplace. The workplace needs to be kept clean. De-clutter your department. Important documents should be kept in specific folders and files.

SEIKETSU-SEIKETSU– It stands for standardization. Every organization should have specific standard rules and set policies to ensure superior quality.

SHITSUKE or Self Discipline – Employees need to comply with the organization’s policies and obey to the rules and regulations. Self discipline is necessary. Follow work policies and always carry your identity cards to work. It gives you a sense of honor and reverence for the organization.


Advantages of kaizen

  • Kaizen focuses on slow improvement that can make a gentler approach to change compared to big efforts that may be left behind because of their tendency to provoke change resistance and pushback.
  • Kaizen encourages investigation of processes so that errors and waste are reduced.
  • With fewer errors, maintenance and inspection requirements are minimized.
  • Employee morale improves because of Kaizen promotes a sense of value and purpose.
  • Teamwork increases as employees think beyond the peculiar issues in their area.
  • Client focus expands as employees become more conscious about customer requirements.

Disadvantages of Kaizen

  • Companies with cultures of territorialism and closed communication may first need to focus on cultural changes to create a friendly environment.
  • Short-term Kaizen approaches may create a burst of excitement that is shallow and short-lived and, therefore, is not sustained.

Examples of Kaizen

Toyota is arguably the most famous for its use of Kaizen, but other companies have successfully used the approach. Here are two examples:

Lockheed Martin

The aerospace company is a well-known proponent of Kaizen. Lockheed Martin has used the method to successfully reduce manufacturing costs, inventory, and delivery time.

Ford Motor Company

 When Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford in 2006, the automaker was on the brink of bankruptcy. Mulally used Kaizen to execute one of the most famous corporate turnarounds in history.

Great Western Bank

Opening a checking account at Great Western used to take 34 steps, but using kaizen, this has been reduced to 24. It uses kaizen to analyze its process to deliver better service to its customers.

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