Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. Kaizen can be applied to any kind of work, but it is perhaps best known for being used in lean manufacturing and lean programming. If a work environment practices kaizen, continuous improvement is the responsibility of every worker, not just a selected few.
Kaizen can be roughly translated from Japanese to mean "good change." The philosophy behind kaizen is often credited to Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Demming was invited by Japanese industrial leaders and engineers to help rebuild Japan after World War II. He was honored for his contributions by Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers.
In his book "Out of the Crisis," Dr. Deming shared his philosophy of continuous improvement:
- Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business and to provide jobs.
- Adopt the new philosophy.
- Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
- End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost.
- Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service to improve quality and productivity and thus constantly decrease costs.
- Institute training on the job.
- Institute leadership. The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job.
- Drive out fear so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
- 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.
- 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 work force.
- Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship.
- Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship.
- Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody's job.
In Western civilization, kaizen is often broken down into four steps: assess, plan, implement and evaluate. In Western workplaces, a "kaizen blitz" is synonymous with a concentrated effort to make quick changes that will help achieve a short-term goal.