KAIZEN: Continuous improvement

Since the consolidation of the Japanese economy, many have been the questions that have been raised regarding the models and practices used in the resurgence after the devastation caused by World War II. The need to build Japan’s financial and productive foundations from the outset involved integration between high, medium and low profiles, i.e. all with equal commitment to meet the new challenges, challenges that presented the present day after day. 

Kaizen then emerged as a synergistic philosophy that integrated the responsiveness of all profiles, in order to face the challenges that were posed daily, in addition, because it was necessary not only to restore the economic fabric, but social, it became a lifestyle, which generated a cultural change that affected the productive performance of the Japanese , which is why authors such as Masaaki Imai consider Kaizen to be the key to Japanese competitive advantage.

What is Kaizen?

The term Kaizen is of Japanese origin, and means “change to improve”, which over time has been accepted as the “Continuous Improvement Process”. The literal translation of the term is:

KAI: Modifications – ZEN: To improve

The principle underpinning the Kaizen method is to actively integrate all workers in an organization into its continuous processes of improvement, through small contributions.

The implementation of small improvements, however simple as they may seem, have the potential to improve the efficiency of operations, and more importantly, create an organizational culture that ensures continuity of contributions, and the active participation of staff in a constant search for additional solutions.

The Kaizen methodology teaches us not to underestimate the impact of the simple. The sum of small contributions is a great improvement

Can it be improved without investment?

It is now common to start from the premise that a substantial investment of economic resources and time must be made to implement an improvement, moreover, when it comes to changes in information systems, or in the organization’s key technology.

While substantial resource investment seeks representative improvements in processes, in many cases it is not essential to invest to improve, it is sometimes sufficient to take advantage of one of the most undervalued capitals held by an organization, such as the intellectual capital of its human resource. This capital has a number of peculiarities that make it key, one of them is that it manifests itself in the form of experience through the people who over the years are at the forefront of operations, which is why they have a potential to identify opportunities for improvement. Kaizen offers the possibility to take advantage of this capital and achieve continuous improvements with a minimum of investment.


Two alternatives can be broadly identified to improve an organization’s operations, these are innovation, and continuous improvement.


  • High investment
  • High impact
  • High-tech
  • Media / Low staff engagement
  • High risk of losing the level of improvement (Depreciable)

Continuous improvement process

  • Optimizing the existing resource (Low Investment)
  • Speed in implementation of changes
  • High staff participation (At all stages of improvement)
  • Small steps
  • Continuous approach to the target plotted (Non depreciable)

Combining both improvement alternatives can bring with it surprising results for the organization, in the following graph we represent the difference between an innovation process (which depreciates), and a combinative process of improvement through innovation and kaizen.

In practice, when is Kaizen used?

In practice the Kaizen methodology, and the application of its improvement events is carried out when:

  • It is intended to redistribute the areas of the company.
  • It is necessary to optimize the enlistment time of a computer or process.
  • Improving a quality attribute is required.
  • It is intended to optimize the total order cycle.
  • Waste needs to be reduced.
  • Operational expenses need to be reduced.
  • Improved order and cleanliness is required.

The above are just a few examples of the cases in which you apply the execution of a Kaizen event.

Kaizen’s Fundamental Principles

For the implementation of a kaizen philosophy or a Continuous Improvement Process, at least four fundamental principles must be applied, as follows:

  1. Optimization of current resources: The trend of organizations seeking improvement is to provide new resources. To implement Kaizen the first step is to analyze the degree of utilization of current resources, just as alternatives are sought to improve the use and functioning of these.
  2. Rapid solution implementation: If solutions to the problems that have been identified are set to long execution times, we are not practicing Kaizen. A basic principle of Kaizen is to minimize bureaucratic processes of solution analysis and authorization; in case the problems are of substantive complexity, Kaizen proposes to degreat the problem into small milestones of simple solution.
  3. Low or no cost criterion: Kaizen is a philosophy of minimal investment that complements innovation, in no way encourages a management parameter to be improved through capital intensive use leaving aside continuous improvement. The investment alternatives it proposes focus on the creation of staff participation and stimulus mechanisms.
  4. Active participation of the operator in all stages: It is essential that the operator is actively linked at all stages of the improvements, including planning, analysis, execution and monitoring. The first myth that the Kaizen dismisses is that “the operator is not paid to think.” This philosophy that seems barely supportive and inclusive has even more foundations, and is based on the operator being the best knowr of the problems related to the operation with which he coexists.

Kaizen Methodology

Prior to addressing the Kaizen methodology, the organization has already had to have defined its firm intention, on the part of management, for the development of continuous improvement activities. Once this stage has been completed, the next is an instructional design to instill the Kaizen spirit in the staff since formation. Once this is developed and already having a leader responsible for the philosophy within the company, we proceed with the problem recognition tool, which is always a good point of origin to implement a process of continuous improvement.

For this purpose there are tools such as the Deming cycle or PDCA, or tools like MOVE WorkShop. We will explain in this case Deming’s systematic cycle.

1. Plan (Plan)

This stage is the selection of the object of improvement, it explains the reasons for such choice and defines clear objectives to be achieved.

  • Current situation
  • Information Analysis (Object Data)
  • Objective

2. Do (Do)

This stage corresponds to the field work of improvement, consists of proposals for solutions and rapid implementation of the highest priority improvements. The steps included in doing are:

  • Solution proposals
  • Just Do It

3. Check (Check)

At this stage, the objective set out in the plan should be checked for the initial situation identified. Therefore, we check that the results are being achieved or else we will return to the Do. This step includes:

  • Monitoring
  • Verification

4. Act (Action)

This is a key step in continuous improvement, as ensuring that improvements are not depreciated depends on the standard or formalization of corrective measures. In order to proceed with the standardization we must have seen that the measures have achieved the expected results, in addition, we must always consider further improving the object of analysis.

  • Standardization
  • Search for optimization
KAIZEN: Continuous improvement
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