KAIZEN continuous improvement

Manostaxx – Indusrial Management Consulting


An excerpt on KAIZEN continuous improvement from The Handbook for Quality Management (2013, McGraw-Hill) by Paul Keller and Thomas Pyzdek

(Note: *KAIZENTM is a trademark of the KAIZEN Institute, Ltd.)

KAIZEN is a philosophy of continuous improvement, a belief that all aspects of life should be constantly improved. In Japan, where the concept originated, KAIZEN applies to all aspects of life, not just the workplace. In America the term is usually applied to work processes.

The KAIZEN approach focuses attention on ongoing incremental improvement that involves all stakeholders. Over time these small improvements produce changes every bit as dramatic as the big project approach. KAIZEN does not concern itself with changing fundamental systems, but seeks to optimize existing systems.

All employees in an organization have responsibilities for two aspects of quality: process improvement and process control. Control involves taking action on deviations to maintain a given process state. In the absence of signals indicating that the process has gone astray, control is achieved by adhering to established standard operating procedures (SOPs). In contrast, improvement requires experimentally modifying the process to produce better results through innovation and KAIZEN. When an improvement has been identified, the SOPs are changed to reflect the new way of doing things. Imai (1986) illustrates the job responsibilities as shown in Figure 3.1. (From Imai, M. KAIZEN: The Key to Japans Competitive Success. Copyright © 1986 by the KAIZEN Institute, Ltd.)


The figure illustrates both the shared responsibility and the limited role of KAIZEN in excluding radical innovations (sometimes referred to as re-engineering). More detailed responsibilities for KAIZEN are provided in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1. Hierarchy of KAIZEN involvement. From Imai, M. KAIZEN: The Key to Japans Competitive Success, page 8. Copyright © 1986 by the KAIZEN Institute, Ltd.
Top management
  • Be determined to introduce KAIZEN as a corporate strategy
  • Provide support and direction for KAIZEN by allocating resources
  • Establish policy for KAIZEN and cross-functional goals
  • Realize KAIZEN goals through policy deployment and audits
  • Build systems, procedures, and structures conducive to KAIZEN
Middle management and staff
  • Deploy and implement KAIZEN goals as directed by top management through policy deployment and cross-functional management
  • Use KAIZEN in functional capabilities
    • Establish, maintain, and upgrade standards
    • Make employees KAIZEN-conscious through intensive training programs
    • Help employees develop skills and tools for problem solving
  • Use KAIZEN in functional roles
  • Formulate plans for KAIZEN and provide guidance to workers
    • Improve communication with workers and sustain high morale
    • Support small group activities (such as quality circles) and the individual suggestion system
    • Introduce discipline in the workshop
  • Provide KAIZEN suggestions
  • Engage in KAIZEN through the suggestion system and small group activities
  • Practice discipline in the workshop
  • Engage in continuous self-development to become better problem solvers
  • Enhance skills and job performance expertise with cross-education

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