What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese word that sees everyday use. The term means “Change for better” or “continuous” and “philosophy”.

In addition, the word can be applied to one-time or continuous improvements, much like the English word “improvement”. However, in business, it refers to the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement techniques applied by many Japanese organisations, most notably Toyota.

When applied to a workplace Kaizen has the ability to improve all functions within a business, from marketing campaigns to recruitment. Furthermore, Kaizen aims to eliminate all wasted effort from an organisation, improving their activities and processes. As a result, Kaizen’s philosophy is a natural fit with Six Sigma efforts.

Kaizen origins

Kaizen’s origins began in Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced by American Quality-management teachers. While now applied internationally to many industries and spaces outside of business as a proven way to increase productivity.

How Kaizen increases productivity

When applied correctly it humanises workers and teaches individuals how to spot areas for improvement in business processes.

The seven phases of Kaizen’s continuous cycle:

  1. Identify an opportunity
  2. Analyse the process
  3. Develop an optimal solution
  4. Implement the solution
  5. Study the results
  6. Standardise the solution
  7. Plan for the future

Even fixing small issues in a business process yield large results when applied by all employees consistently. Therefore, Kaizen documents solutions through process mapping informing all employees of the best solution. Process maps provide visual information to the workforce so that they can learn the current best-known business process. Process owners are assigned to be in charge of learning and documenting what the best process is and how to improve it further.

Some of the improvements Kaizen often tackles include:

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