Kaizen Continuous Improvement: Definition, Origins, and Methodology


Kaizen has been applied in Japan since the conclusion of the second world war by both huge international corporations and small local businesses. Kaizen’s Japanese philosophy is both simple and effective in enhancing productivity, increasing efficiency, and maintaining a clean atmosphere and discipline in the workplace. Many businesses have implemented the Kaizen concept to improve their efficiency.

Key Takeaways

  • Kaizen is a philosophy that originated from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good) which translates to “continuous improvement”. It focuses on making small, daily changes that add up to big results over time. 
  • Nothing is the status quo, according to the kaizen philosophy, and everything can be improved upon. It is also founded on the notion of respect for people.
  • Toyota is the most well-known company that has implemented the Kaizen principle to improve its operations.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a term that means “constant improvement” or “transformation for the best.” It is a Japanese business philosophy that focuses on processes that enhance operations over time and incorporates all personnel. It entails developing a team environment, optimizing daily operations, guaranteeing employee involvement, and making a job more satisfying, less stressful, and safer. The notion of commitment and cooperation is central to the Kaizen philosophy. Everyone at all levels of the organization is a part of it.

The Kaizen technique is a strategy of driving continuous improvement in a company by focusing on tiny, positive adjustments that can lead to larger, more substantial gains. This philosophy promotes productivity growth as a methodical and gradual process.

Kaizen is applicable to all aspects of life. From work to relationships to one’s personal life.

Small changes can help break bad habits and develop a daily routine. A personal improvement goal could include setting aside 10-15 minutes every day to service your inbox and eliminate all of the unneeded emails. This easy step will improve your performance and productivity by making vital information more accessible. It would also be beneficial to your mental health and will give you a great sense of accomplishment.

The Origin of Kaizen

When the USA entered the war, a collection of Americans led by engineer and statistician W.Edwards Deming got down to cost-effectively convert vehicle factories into tank factories in less time. Deming and his colleagues challenged workers to identify simple methods to enhance their procedures so as to accomplish this ambitious feat. They quickly discovered that little adjustments yielded big, measurable, and ingenious outcomes.

Taiichi Ohno, a businessman and industrial engineer, became the first Japanese organization leader to enforce Deming’s quality control techniques and achieved extraordinary, world-class results.

Taiichi Ohno hired Kaizen in manufacturing to enhance the quality of Toyota cars.

When automobiles were first constructed, they were sold without being subjected to quality control inspections. Customers purchased the vehicles and later learned they were defective, resulting in a lot of returns for the company to fix.

Every vehicle component on the assembly line is inspected, and if any flaws are discovered, the assembly line is halted and the problem is swiftly corrected, as per Deming’s requirements.


11 Principles of Kaizen Improvement Methodology 

Kaizen is a broad concept that incorporates a variety of principles.

Don’t Be Fixated, Try New ideas

Keep an open mind to fresh ideas. It’s human nature to get into the habit of doing things a specific way and repeating the same ideas. We do this because we are terrified of making mistakes with new ideas. Allow yourself to be free of fear and to consider new options. Consider what would happen if you believed or did the contrary if you become obsessed with a particular idea.

Taking Small steps daily is better than perfection

Small steps can always lead to bigger results, so start small and forget about the big steps at first. Aim for small, regular changes, and you’ll see a difference over time. Begin with simple solutions. Never be scared to take things gently when you initially start out. Instead of attempting to perfect the workings of a department as a whole, an organization can obtain greater results by improving the way little jobs are consistently executed. In your personal life, setting a goal of working out for five minutes every day is more accomplishable than making a goal of working out for 60 minutes five times a week. The end goal is to make daily improvements.

Correct Mistakes As Soon As They Are Discovered 

There must have been a sequence of failures prior to the realization of any human achievement. Take, for example, the evolution of the light bulb. Because, as humans, we are prone to making mistakes. Allowing mistakes to grow into something unpredictable and uncontrollable, on the other hand, is not a smart idea. Have the bravery to admit when you’ve made a mistake and make the necessary corrections right away. It is incorrect to attempt to accomplish a task without first rectifying a mistake that has happened. 

So don’t be frightened to make mistakes. Simply correct your errors as quickly as possible.

The Wisdom of Many Is Better Than Advice from One person

You should never take a single person’s counsel as the truth. Because everyone views things in their own unique way. The more points of view you have, the closer you will get to objective reality (the truth). As a result, you have a better grasp on the problem and the steps that must be followed.

Learn By Taking Action

The prove of the knowledge you have acquired can only be evident when you practice it. You may read a number of books to gain insight on a subject matter, but it wouldn’t mean anything and won’t translate into results except you put what you have learned to practice.

Accept Input From All Team Members

Giving everyone a voice not only gives them a sense of belonging, but it also provides the organization with new ideas and innovative solutions for overcoming specific obstacles.


Time is saved and productivity is increased when people are held accountable. Instead of blaming staff for errors, hold them accountable for each task they are given. This way, there will be fewer mistakes.

Let Change Decisions Be Data-Driven

It is not a good idea to assume that a change concept will work. Allow the proof to emerge from the facts. Before implementing any change, it should be tested and demonstrated to be beneficial. It should be measured and verified to work.  

Identify The Root Cause 

Employees may disregard the necessity to determine the source of the problem in order to achieve production deadlines. If they ignore errors when they occur and do not correct them right away, they will make the same mistakes again and again. Encourage employees to figure out what caused an error and how to fix it so that others can benefit from their discoveries.

Kaizen Does Not End

Kaizen is a continuous process. To put it another way, continuous improvement has no end. There will always be opportunity for further improvements or a better method of doing things, no matter how many adjustments you make. As a result, don’t dismiss a change once it’s been implemented. Continue to develop. 

 For example, Apple is at the top of the list of innovative companies because they are always updating their products.The revelation of Apple’s ambitious and aggressive plans to construct an autonomous electric vehicle recently fueled it’s stock’s rise.

When you keep improving, your company will continuously enjoy profitability.

Kaizen Keeps A Positive Mindset 

Always keep an optimistic attitude. A positive mindset allows the mind to be open to new possibilities. A positive attitude motivates you to hunt for answers all of the time and empowers you to motivate your team to achieve. You won’t be able to achieve any goals or targets if you don’t have a positive attitude. A positive mindset will encourage you to keep trying until you succeed. It is preferable to attempt and fail than to never try at all. No matter how difficult a problem is, there is always something that can be done to address it. To help you come up with solutions, ask for assistance and seek expert counsel.

Problems Make You Stronger

Don’t run away from challenges. As you encounter them and create solutions, you gain more wisdom, insight and knowledge. See challenges as opportunities for growth.

Adopt Low-cost Methods In Solving Problems

Money should not be the first line of defense when problems come knocking at the door. Rather than throw money at problems, encourage the use of creativity, experimentation, and invention to solve them. Money should only be used as a last option. When the motivation for change is hinged on ideas rather than money, people are more likely to succeed.

How Kaizen Works: Kaizen Cycle For Continuous Improvement and 5’S 

Kaizen is implemented in the workplace by following the Shewhart cycle. It is implemented through a process that begins with identifying problems and continues with developing solutions, testing them, analyzing the results, and repeating the process. This process is what is known as the Kaizen cycle.

Kaizen Deming/Shewhart Circle
Kaizen Deming/Shewhart Circle

The Kaizen circle, also known as the Deming or Shewhart circle, is used for the systematic implementation of the Kaizen methodology. It is a cycle that necessitates cross-departmental cooperation. The circle is utilized to ensure that the procedure is implemented in a systematic manner. 


PDCA is a common abbreviation for the Kaizen process cycle (Plan, Do, Check, and Act). The PDCA method takes a scientific approach to improvement: 

Plan: Identify the problem

Do:  Carry out an experiment. 

Check: Assess the outcome 

Act: Fine-tune your experiment before beginning a new cycle.


The 5’S Kaizen System

The 5’s is a Kaizen system that focuses on waste reduction and process standardization in the workplace. The 5’S are terms used in Japanese. The English equivalent begins with the letter s as well.


  1. Seiri/ Sort:  separate the items that are useful from the ones that are not useful in the workplace.
  2. Seiton/straighten/ set in order: Arrange the useful items in a way that they can be easily found. Categorize each item and put it in their respective locations so they can be easily accessed and returned after use.
  3. Seiso/Shine: clean the work area regularly. Keep it neat and tidy.
  4. Seiketsu/ Standardize: Always repeat the first three steps over and over.
  5. Shitsuke/Sustain: Keep up with the standard and continue to progress by adhering to the regulations.


The 5’S are implemented to create a more organized process, which increases employee motivation while also enhancing efficiency and productivity.


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Examples of Kaizen Implementation 


It is one of the Japanese automobile companies that popularised the use of the Kaizen philosophy. The company has been employing the Kaizen philosophy for decades, and its principles have been incorporated at all levels of the company.

Ford Motor Company 

The Ford motor company began implementing the Kaizen philosophy under the leadership of  CEO Alan Mulally in 2006. At the time, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. But with the implementation of the Kaizen philosophy, Alan was able to bring the company back to profitability. The Ford Motor Company was one of the first corporations to adopt the Kaizen principle to revolutionize its operations and create a competitive advantage.

Mayo Clinic

The proof of improvements in Toyota’s operations piqued Mayo Clinic’s interest in the Kaizen concept. Given the complexity of healthcare procedures, the adaptation of Kaizen methodology aided in the improvement of various aspects of the organization. In the Mayo Clinic and other healthcare systems throughout the world, Kaizen has made a difference

The use of kaizen principles brings a variety of benefits. All solutions are accessible and desirable, including low-cost methods and continual improvements. Everyone in an organisation is a part of the Kaizen effort to improve things. It does not rely on major capital inputs, nor does it want to make rapid progress.


To Wrap it all up

You must acquire a Kaizen mentality to become a positive change agent. Workers and business associates or team members must be motivated to emulate you. Keep in mind that only a small percentage of people are willing or appreciate change. That should not, however, deter or hinder you from discovering new ways to improve the organization. For successful change implementation, the team’s mindset must be prepared. At some time, your thinking will become trapped as well. In that situation, you’ll need to review the KAIZEN guidelines in order to improve.

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