What is kaizen (continuous improvement)?

What is kaizen (continuous improvement)?

12 Mar 2023

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In business terms, kaizen is an approach to continuously improve an organisation based on making small, positive ongoing changes that, over time, lead to significant improvements. This CPD article will outline how kaizen can be implemented, as well as some of the key benefits and principles of applying a kaizen methodology to your organisation.

What does kaizen mean?

Kaizen is a Japanese phrase that roughly translates to “change for the better.” This loose translation offers a little more insight into what the term means:

kai = making change

zen = a way or path

This concept was first introduced in the post-WWII era in Japan when the country was rapidly rebuilding. It was used to increase efficiencies, improve productivity, reduce waste and encourage innovation within the manufacturing sector but has since been used across a wide range of industries, from logistics to healthcare.

How is kaizen implemented?

The fundamental difference between a traditional approach to improvement and kaizen is that with kaizen, all workers are empowered to find ways to improve the organisation. This is in complete contrast to a top-down approach whereby a small number of senior managers are responsible for feeding strategies for improvement down through the business.

In any organisational setting, the successful implementation of kaizen hinges on universal support and contribution across an entire organization. Kaizen is closely associated with other lean methodologies and principles but fundamentally differs from tactics like Six Sigma which focuses on quality control of the final product. Kaizen is for improving the whole business.

The core kaizen principles

The definitive ‘core principles’ of kaizen vary depending on which sources you take from. Broadly speaking, there are five main principles in kaizen:

1. Understand the customer

Key to making ongoing positive changes is understanding exactly what your customer wants. Then it is a case of working out how their experience can be improved based on what it is they value most. 

2. Eliminating waste is a company-wide goal

Zero waste should be a focus for everyone in the business. Ensuring that every individual seeks to spot where waste happens and seeks to reduce it at all times is a key aspect of the kaizen philosophy.

3. Observe actual work

This refers to actually seeing how work is done to find ways to make improvements. It’s a technique whereby you follow the end-to-end workflow to find where the value is created and apply kaizen principles wherever that is.

Key principles of Kaizen methodology

4. Empower everyone

Organise teams with clear directives and goals but be sure to equip them with the right tools and systems they need to be successful. At the core of kaizen is the need to allow every team member to voice and own ways for processes to be improved. Ensure everyone is empowered to share what they think could be improved.

5. Be transparent

Feedback to the team to show how the improvements they are implementing are benefitting the organisation and the team. This will help to keep the momentum going.

Why adopt kaizen methodologies?

There are many benefits to the kaizen approach, which is partly why it has remained such a highly regarded technique for such a long time. These include: 

Less waste

With such a strong focus on reducing waste, kaizen ensures that resources (including team capabilities) are used much more efficiently

Improved productivity

The reduction in different types of waste, from overproduction to wasted time to underutilisation of team members’ skills can massively transform the productivity outputs of an organisation.

Improved team satisfaction

Being more empowered to contribute to how things are done helps teams collaborate better as well as being more engaged in their processes and the wider organisation.

Benefits of the Kaizen approach in business

Improved retention

A culture of engaged and invested employees naturally improves the likelihood that team members stick around.

Improved competitiveness

The increases in efficiency often lead to a reduction in costs and an improvement in the quality of products. 

Improved consumer satisfaction

Creating better products with fewer faults also means a better end product and happier customers.

Improved problem solving

Looking at processes from a solutions perspective as well as empowering employees to address problems themselves, means that problem-solving can happen continuously.

Kaizen and continuous improvement training courses

For the kaizen methodologies and philosophy to be successful, it’s imperative that all team members understand the approach and participate. As a result, one of the first steps towards implementing kaizen and continuous improvement is to offer CPD training to all team members.

Within the CPD Courses Catalogue, there are a variety of different courses, events, e-learning programs, conferences, workshops and seminars on kaizen and Continuous Improvement to choose from. If you are interested in learning more about lean principles, please read our previous articles:

What is Six Sigma and how can it help your career?

The benefits of an Agile Scrum framework

We hope this article was helpful. Established in 1996, The CPD Certification Service is the world’s leading and largest CPD accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors. If you are looking to provide training courses, workshops, eLearning or virtual events that may be suitable for Continuing Professional Development, please contact our team to discuss in more detail.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a free online CPD record tool to help manage, track and log your ongoing learning, as well as store your professional training records and attendance certificates in one simple place, go to the myCPD Portal page.

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