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What is Kaizen?


Mark Graban
VP of Customer Success at KaiNexus


In this video:

So what is Kaizen? Kaizen is a Japanese word that has two parts to it – “kai” and “zen.” It translates literally to mean “good change” or, we might say, “improvement,” a change for the better. The word’s usually used in the context of continuous improvement; it’s a big part of the Lean management system and of the Toyota production system. Kaizen is both a methodology and a philosophy. Part of that philosophy, first off, is the idea that everyone should be involved in improvement everywhere and every day. This is something we learned from Masaaki Imai who wrote what is probably the seminal book on Kaizen called Kaizen about 25 years ago.

Another thing about this philosophy is that managers work together with employees to both identify problems or opportunities for improvement and to come up with solutions or countermeasures. We’re not just asking for suggestions. Instead of just accepting or rejecting ideas as a manager might do in a suggestion box system, people work together – managers work together with their employees and their team – to implement something that we anticipate will solve that problem. So another important thing is the testing of changes. We test in the PDSA model – Plan, Do, Study, Adjust; we implement small tests of change and we verify to see if those changes actually led to the result we expected or not. We might study and adjust. We might go back and try something else in that experimental improvement model.

So one other thing that’s important about Kaizen is instead of asking employees for one big million-dollar-idea, we actually ask for lots of little ideas – low-cost, low-risk, incremental improvements. There’s probably dozens (if not hundreds) of Kaizen opportunities just waiting to be discovered and implemented in any department, in any type of organization. And at the same time we’re also going to help identify larger problems, larger improvements, that might be a formal Kaizen event or larger project. So Kaizen is not just that method of how we solicit, discuss, implement, and track ideas. It’s also a mindset.


Find out how KaiNexus supports the Kaizen improvement model!