DEFINITION of 'Kaizen'

Kaizen is a philosophy and practice that sees improvement in productivity as a gradual and methodical process. Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning "change for the better." The concept of kaizen encompasses a wide range of ideas. It involves making the work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere, improving everyday procedures, ensuring employee satisfaction , and making a job more fulfilling, less tiring and safer.

BREAKING DOWN 'Kaizen'

Some of the key objectives of the Kaizen philosophy include the elimination of waste, quality control, just-in-time delivery, standardized work, and the use of efficient equipment. An example of the Kaizen philosophy in action is the Toyota production system, in which suggestions for improvement are encouraged and rewarded, and the production line is stopped when a malfunction occurs.

The overall goal of kaizen is to make small changes over a period of time to create improvements within a company. That doesn't mean alterations happen slowly, it just recognizes that small changes now can have huge impacts in the future. Improvements can come from any employee at any time. The idea is that everyone has a stake in the company's success and everyone should strive, at all times, to help make the business model better.

Traditional Concepts

Traditional Japanese ideas of kaizen follow five basic tenets, which are teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality and suggestions for improvement. These five tenets lead to three major outcomes: elimination of waste, good housekeeping and standardization. Ideally, kaizen becomes so ingrained in a company's culture that it happens naturally among all of its employees, from the CEO all the way to entry-level floor workers. The firm also learns to work well with less, which means less inventory, fewer problems and less waste, and all of these lead to greater efficiency. In addition to all of the technology marvels that help 21st century companies succeed, kaizen plays an important role for those who follow the philosophy.

Contemporary Attitudes

Nothing gets done in a kaizen framework without teamwork. Regular team meetings discuss improvements, changes and projects. Minor changes might only affect a small team. Large projects may require the entire company to undergo an overhaul.

Improvements generally follow the PDCA format, which stands for "plan-do-check-act." The "plan" portion includes mapping out the changes so that everyone knows what to expect when teams try to solve a problem. The "do" means implementing the best solution for the problem. The "check" step involves evaluating the solution to the problem to see if it worked. When a company performs the "act" stage, it determines whether or not the solution should become a company standard or if it needs further changes. If managers decide to implement more changes, kaizen goes back to the plan step and the process starts all over again.

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