KAIZEN – Change for good

Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement of work practices, thereby enhancing human efficiency. It means ‘change for the better.’

Today, Kaizen is recognized as an important pillar of an organization’s long term competitive strategy.

The basic principle of Kaizen is that there is always a better way to do anything and small incremental changes in the right direction can bring in large positive improvements.  It is also people-oriented.

Difference between conventional and Kaizen approach

Conventional approach   

KAIZEN approach

Employees are the problem

The process is the problem

Doing my job

Helping to get things done

Understanding my job

Knowing how my job fits in the process

Measuring individuals

Measuring performance

Change the person

Change the process

Correct errors

Reduce variation

Who made the error

What allowed the error to occur

Kaizen is not about advocating improvements by a group of experts in an R&D set up.  True Kaizen is achieved by the involvement of people on the shop floor by contributing better ideas through their everyday work experience.  It is not the responsibility of a small, exclusive group but that of each and every employee in the organization.

The essence of Kaizen is that people who perform a certain task are the most knowledgeable about the task. By involving them and showing confidence in their capabilities, ownership of the process is raised to the highest level.  It brings out a lot of positive results like making the work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, ensuring employee satisfaction and making the job more fulfilling, less tiring and safer.

Kaizen techniques became popular when Toyota used them to become the world leaders in automotive industry.  Rather than undertaking large projects, Toyota’s employees were encouraged to identify problems, no matter how small, trace their root cause and implement necessary solutions to resolve them.


Many companies have suggestion and rewards programs to motivate their employees to bring in new ideas periodically.  This method has far-reaching advantages. In addition to bringing in new ideas, they foster an easier acceptance of the change.  The organization benefits through better productivity achieved through such ideas.  The ideas may be in the field of better utilization of raw materials, equipment or any resource for that matter.  It may be in the field of material handling or simply safer work practices.  It involves looking into the current procedures and processes and changing them for better productivity through small improvements in progression.  It is also a practice to display improvements on the shop floor with ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, benefits envisaged and names and pictures of persons who contributed to the change.

Needless to say, this communication helps in consensus building and motivates others to participate.


Dr. W Edward Deming, the much admired Father of Kaizen, was invited by the Japanese industry leaders and engineers to help them rebuild Japan after World War 2.  His success in this venture brought him accolades from the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers and even Emperor Hirohito himself!

In his immensely readable book ‘Out of Crisis,’ Deming shared his philosophy of continuous improvement in the following manner.

1. Create constancy of purpose towards improvement of products and services, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business and to provide jobs.

2. Adopt new philosophy.

3. Eliminate the need for inspection on mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize the total cost.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and services to improve quality and productivity and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job.

8. Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company.

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales and production must work as a team to foresee problems of production and use of the product or service.

10. Eliminate asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the workforce.

11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to the pride of workmanship.

12 Remove the barriers that rob people in management and in engineering their right to pride of workmanship.

13. Institute vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

Four Simple Steps of Kaizen

Kaizen is often broken into four steps:





A Formal Approach to Kaizen

In Western workplaces, a ‘Kaizen Blitz’ is often synonymous with a concentrated effort to make quick changes that will help achieve a short term goal. Kaizen as a methodology has the ability to speed up the change process and more importantly convert solutions into standard processes quickly.

In the formal approach, Kaizen needs to be facilitated by an individual who has good people skills, excellent team capabilities, quick conflict resolution skills and in-depth negotiating skills.  An empowered team led by such a leader is sure to succeed in getting results.

Ten Step Formal Approach to Kaizen Improvements

1.     Define the problem

2.     Document the current situation

3.     Visualize the ideal situation

4.     Define measurable targets

5.     Brainstorm solution to the problem

6.     Develop the improvement plan

7.     Implement it

8.     Measure, record and compare the result with targets

9.     Prepare  summary documents

10.  Create short term action plan, ongoing standards and sustaining plan


Kaizen is an excellent way to formalize some simple improvement activities that are not always run in an optimal format.  It also avoids the stigma of a formalized project that may be drawn out over several weeks or months.  Most importantly, Kaizen provides just-in-time process improvements from process owners.  Using the 10 steps articulated above and ensuring the participation of relevant stakeholders, Kaizen can bring in significant and sustainable improvements to any organization.

Watch out for workshops and capacity building sessions on Kaizen at ELCIA!


By E A Salim, MD, Sunikh Components

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