Kaizen and Continuous Improvement

The best thing about kaizen – and the biggest reason that every company should adopt it – is that it does not rely on expensive, innovative solutions. Just the opposite is true. The core principle of kaizen is to make small, immediate improvements in the processes and standards of the workplace. But not just one improvement. Looking for ways to make small improvements should be part of everyone’s job, every day of the week. And after a period of time, all of these small improvements will add up to better working conditions, a higher degree of safety, more efficiency, and ultimately, greater profits.

To understand what kaizen is, it may be helpful to look at the differences between the traditional Western methods of improvement and kaizen. In the West, innovation is king. When management wants to get better results from their workers, they introduce the latest technology or incorporate the newest management technique that they saw at the last trade show.

“Kaizen is the tortoise compared to the western hare. It relies on long-term, long-lasting, and nondramatic changes.”

Masaaki Imai, who worked to introduce kaizen to companies in the West, believed the Japanese (the East) used the gradualist method (kaizen) while Western businesses used a great-leap-forward methodology (innovation).

Big changes equal big results – that’s the mantra that is traditionally chanted in the West. The result is often a big expenditure of money and time and in the end, the results are not that great. Kaizen is different. Kaizen is the tortoise compared to the western hare. It relies on long- term, long-lasting, and nondramatic changes. “Small steps done many times” is the method that it relies on. It is a group effort – everyone is involved and contributing. It requires a small investment of money, but a large investment in effort, cooperation, and training. If done correctly, the results are often amazing.

Kaizen is a process. It is not a one-time adjustment made to make this quarter’s numbers look better. It must become a daily part of every workers routine. It must become part of the company’s culture, so managers and employees are constantly looking for small ways to improve the workflow. When that change happens, you will have an organization that has become lean and efficient. Improvements made with kaizen will lead to a reduction in waste, an improvement of quality, and ultimately savings for your company. This concept is the essence of kaizen.

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