What is Kaizen?

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Guest post by Francois Knuchel. Originally posted at Caterfly’s Smarter Working blog

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a philosophy that has transcended its development in Japanese car manufacturing management, where it was a critical component of the country’s post war economic transformation. Today, Kaizen is used across the world by life coaches, fitness and martial arts teachers, schools, healthcare and across all industries. Kaizen is at the heart of the Toyota Way, from which the Lean Management evolved, and is a fundamental component to Caterfly’s model for embedding long term improvement.

Great Small Things Van Gogh‘Kai’-‘zen’ means ‘good change’, or change for the better, done by everybody, everyday, everywhere. 

Kaizen is a mind-set permeating throughout an organisation, which fosters a continuous search by all employees at all levels and departments to find small improvements in the workplace, the products, services or processes. This kaizen mind-set creates an organisational platform or culture which is fed by one question asked by everyone at least once a day:  ‘What is one small step you can do to improve the product or process you work on?’

“Kaizen is a customer-driven strategy for improvcement… In Kaizen, it is assumed that all activities should eventually lead to increased customer satisfaction.” Masaaki Imai

Kaizen is about improving products or services, but it is also about constantly improving processes such as operations, standards, office workflow, production, efficiency, or sustainability, or indeed anything that may speed up, embellish, eliminate waste, simplify, reduce a step, remove toxins, or fool-proof a process.  Kaizen is particularly useful in reducing human mistakes in routine work, by considering small steps that would prevent human errors recurring.  By continuously focussing on small improvements the whole workforce is a state of continuous innovation and change – this in turns makes the organisation nimbler, and more responsive and adaptable to change.

Kaizen is a platform for change, innovation and engagement across an organisation.

Kaizen applied across the company creates a culture, a “kaizen culture”, of participation and development.  Kaizen helps improve the services or products of an organisation, but it has an even greater impact on strengthening the personal development of everyone.  Kaizen is a form of personal development that is directly relevant to, as well as emanates from the work being done. Kaizen enables experimentation, and requires leaders to listen to those doing the work with positive reinforcement. Kaizen not only allows innovation to flourish, it also motivates and engages the whole workforce.

“Kaizen… is the key to Japanese competitive success.” Masaaki Imai

You may also like our longer article: Kaizen – Rejuvenating your Organisation