Kaizen, is the Japanese word for “improvement”. In business, kaizen refers to activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. By improving standardized programmes and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste. Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after the Second World War, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.


Kaizen is a Japanese word that means to continuously improve or change for the better. It’s a very popular business concept in Japan and has been credited with being the key to the competitive success Japan has long enjoyed. Kaizen’s concepts are now recognized and embraced worldwide as being a very effective strategy to systematically improve any company that implements it and consistently yield superior results.

What Is Kaizen?

The term Kaizen origin comes from the combination of two Japanese words. Those words are “kai” and “zen”. Kai means “change or to improve”. Zen means “for betterment”. The Japanese combined the two words to create a popular philosophy and business model that prioritizes to improve productivity (“continuous improvement”) through making “small incremental improvements”. It permeates every aspect of Japanese business process activities. It’s goal is to resolve problems with the processes in the shortest time possible.

The production Process

Kaizen’s process is an ongoing cycle that has six phases of activity. They are the identification of a problem or opportunity, analysis of the process, the development of an optimal solution and the implementation of the solution. The next step is to study the results the solution yielded, make needed adjustments and standardize the solution. It is applicable to lean software development as well as to personal endeavors. Recognizing the existence of a problem creates opportunities for improvement. Companies can then have its cross-functional personnel identify the problem’s underlying cause, propose a solution, test it and implement the solution companywide.

Kaizen’s 5 Elements

There are 5 basic elements of this unique approach Japanese companies use to allow workers continuously improve the processes they use. Kaizen’s 5 foundation elements are:

  1. Teamwork
  2. Personal Discipline
  3. Improved Morale
  4. Quality Circles
  5. Suggestions For How To Improve

    In all organizations or companies all employees must work as a team to achieve their common desired goal which is to constantly improve the production process.

    Personal Discipline
    To contribute to the organization’s success all employees must have personal discipline when it comes to quality assurance, time management and loyalty to the company.

    Improved Morale
    To improve morale the company owners or senior management must should put several key motivational strategies in place. They include good working conditions, excellent pay, merit promotions and important worker benefits like paid leave, medical care, bonuses, allowances, loans and many others. These things give employees a sense of belonging and the feeling they have job security.

    Quality Circles
    Employees must be encouraged and given opportunities to share the technological skills, ideas and other relevant resources they possess. This type of exchange encourages each worker to constantly assess their job performance and try to improve it.

    continuous improvement
    Organizations must provide forums and other opportunities for employees to freely air any suggestions for continuous improvement the company they have no matter what rank the worker has. All suggestions should be appreciated, welcomed and considered for implementation right away.

Kaizen’s benefits include not only continuous improvement processes, but also engendering teamwork, engagement, a sense of responsibility in employees to improve their work, a feeling of ownership of the company and pride in any success the organization achieves.

Kaizen’s 4 Most Common Types

Japanese organizations, companies and workers are very familiar with Kaizen’s four most common types because they have tried them or other lean processes. They are point, line, plane and cube.


The is usually related to an organization or department’s discrete events. It involves continually improving activities in which lean manufacturing or production principles are applied. The designation Point is a descriptive one. That’s because continually improving processes is being discretely done in areas of the organization that are unrelated to each other.


This is the next step in the organized Lean Deployment in a company. In this context, “Line” refers to the organized spreading of a Lean Deployment from a discrete Point to a downstream process. For example Lean principles being deployed in both the Planning and Procurement departments which are related or on a shared line.


When several mature lines are connected together, this is called a Plane. Another modern business term for it is a Value Stream. This refers to companies organized into value streams and product families instead of traditional departments.


A Cube refers to a situation where all points of an organization are connected. This means Lean has been spread throughout the entire enterprise and there no point that is disjointed from any other. Each and all of Kaizen’s different types can be implemented in any workplace, company or organization to quickly, easily and effectively continually enhance all processes used there.

What Are Kaizen’s 3 Pillars

According to Japanese organizational management and philosophies expert Masaaki Imai, Kaisen’s three pillars are:

  1. Housekeeping
  2. Waste elimination
  3. Standardization
  1. Housekeeping
    This is the process of properly managing the workplace in order to foster continuous improvement. It uses the 5S framework, Shitsuke, seiketsu, seiso, siton, and seiri, to keep the workplace clean, neat, efficient, organized and manageable. This ensures all the tools and materials needed for the production process are easy to locate, maintain and use.
  2. Waste Elimination
    Lean and visual management practices improve business processes by eliminating 7 different types of waste to make converting raw materials into products more efficient. Visual management is a way to standardize. It helps to recognize defects, inventory, waiting times, and other types of waste. Root cause analysis helps organizations identify and eliminate the causes of waste. In Kaizen, the goal of eliminating waste is to improve the relationship and communication with suppliers to create Just in Time inventory management, which is also abbreviated as “JIT.”
  3. Standardization
    Developing production standards simplifies the process, eliminates waste, reduces cost, stabilizes workflows, increases productivity and ensures all products are manufactured efficiently and to set specifications.

A More Efficient Work And Productive Environment

The Kaizen process makes the workplace safer, more efficient, humanizes it, increases employee engagement and productivity, improves processes and procedures and makes any job more fulfilling. The concept posits no process is perfect. Everyone should continually strive to innovate and evolve to help improve results and implement the best solution possible by using the ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act(PDCA) cycle format. This brings companies closer to good quality control, efficient use of equipment, standardization of work, just-in-time delivery and waste elimination. Small changes now create big improvements over time.

Kaizen FAQ

What is kaizen process?

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) is a strategy in which all of an organization’s employees work as one regularly to improve the manufacturing process. It’s the combination of the talents within a company to make improvements.

What are the 5 elements of kaizen?

The Kaizen method is based on 5 founding elements, which are: teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles, and suggestions for improvement.

What is a Kaizen event and how is it done?

Kaizen means “change for the good.” The APICS Dictionary’s definition of a kaizen event is “implementation arm of a lean manufacturing program” noting that kaizen event typically are done in a week. Action is the main thing.

What is the Kaizen approach?

Kaizen helps to improve quality, productivity, safety, and workplace culture. Kaizen believes that small, daily changes leads to major improvements over time. … Kaizen (改善) is coined from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good), and translates to “continuous improvement”.

What are the 4 main kaizen principles?

The 4 main principles of Kaizen are: Kaizen Teian: Bottom-Up Improvement. Kaizen Events: Defined Improvements. Kaikaku: Radical Change. Kakushin: Break-through Innovation.

What are the 3 pillars of kaizen?

The three pillars of kaizen are 1. Housekeeping 2. Waste Elimination 3. Standardization Three factors have to be considered to ensure success on all three pillars.


Further Reading