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Kaizen Methodology and Deployment

Daniel is driven to help American companies reach new potential by applying his 20 years of experience in manufacturing in the U.S.

The origins of the Kaizen philosophy

The origins of the Kaizen philosophy

The Origins of the Word Kaizen

The word Kaizen is a noun. In Japanese, Kaizen actually means "improvement." The philosophy of using Kaizen for business improvements began in the 1950s in Japan. This philosophy was one of many that were used to drive Japan from its poor economic position after World War II.

American groups had a big hand in introducing Kaizen to the business world in the 1950s as they were tasked with helping Japan improve its economic condition through management training and statistical control. One of the trainings used was Kaizen Eno Yon Dankai, which means "Improvement in Four Steps," and that is when Kaizen was born in Japan.

PDCA: Plan-Do-Check-Act

PDCA: Plan-Do-Check-Act


The PDCA method is a way for someone new to the Kaizen methodology to understand how it applies to the Lean toolset. The point is to have a method or process in conducting Kaizen so you don't spin your wheels during your improvement process.

PDCAKaizenLean Tool


Establish objectives and goals

Pareto Chart, Charter, Affinity Process, 5 Why


Implement the plan and action list

Action List, 5S, Cell Design, Kan Ban, One Piece Flow


Study the results of implemented actions

Impact Matrix, Paerto Charts, Monitoring and Response Plan


Set corrective actions to missed plan objectives

Action List, Problem Solving, Value Steam Mapping

Why Use Kaizen in Business?

There are many reasons organizations are using the Kaizen methodology today. Here are some of the reasons why they are using it in today's world of business:

  • Kaizen promotes and drives a continuous improvement mindset from the top of the organization down.
  • Kaizen allows gaps in key performance indicators to be exposed.
  • Kaizen promotes cross-functional teams to work together to drive rapid change in any environment.
  • Kaizen drives teams to specific deliverables.
  • Kaizen drives teams to complete objectives quickly to avoid large expenditures.
  • Kaizen promotes and drives leaders to implement measurable, attainable stretch goals within the organization.
  • Kaizen uses Lean tool sets to drive rapid change and continuous improvement during events in any environment.
  • Kaizen delivers standard work within the organization.
  • Kaizen allows all team members to report results to others in the organization, which gives those team members reporting on the Kaizen important "buy-in" on the processes improved.
  • Kaizen allows team members and team leaders to feel part of the organization, which promotes and allows future improvements for that organization.
  • Kaizen is a great method to teach others the philosophy while driving the team to continually improve day to day.
The foundation of Kaizen

The foundation of Kaizen

The Lean system

The Lean system

Kaizen: The Heart of Lean

Lean methods are always being improved and developed by many organizations all around the world. Every organization interprets Lean in their own way, and they deploy it in their own way across their facilities. No matter what, Kaizen needs to be the heart of that deployment. If Lean is deployed without Kaizen, is it Lean?

Kaizen drives rapid continuous improvement. Lean without Kaizen is like baking a cake without flour. Kaizen is the very foundation of Lean. Kaizen allows teams to drive improvements with no end. If that team is not driving improvement, Lean will fade and eventually die.

What Is Lean?

Lean: The maniacal pursuit of the elimination of waste in all processes and procedures in any type of organization.

Let's look at the definition of Lean a little closer.

Maniacal: The word "maniacal" stems from the word maniac, so we should look at Lean as maniacs, meaning, we should be driving hard and fast to deploy the improvement during a Kaizen. Lean is not something we just tiptoe around to deploy as it would be costly and defy the principle of Lean. We need to become maniacs at what we are doing to succeed in Lean.

Kaizen allows us to become bigger maniacs in a shorter, less expensive manner as we are structured in a team that is all driven to deploy the changes that will lead to sustainable improvements and profits. It is much easier to improve a situation with a bunch of maniacs, rather that one maniac in the organization. Kaizen is the heart of Lean improvements. Hence the maniacs in pursuit of the improvements are the heartbeat of Lean. People in all areas of the organization need to be involved and engaged in the Kaizen in order to get the desired results and impact from the Kaizen.

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Elimination of Waste: Now, let's look at the words "elimination of waste" that are part of the definition of Lean. The elimination of waste can be considered the blood of the Lean methodology. Eliminating waste is how we drive improvements in Safety, Quality, Delivery, Inventory, and Productivity, which all lead to sustainable growing profits.

Kaizen teams need to keep these five words in front of them at all times as these are the metrics that drive efficiencies within an organization or, better said, these are the metrics that matter to every organization's top executives or stockholders. Organizations should teach and coach team members to eliminate waste in these five metrics during a Kaizen to really see substantial results and impact.

The Five Metrics

The five metrics Safety, Quality, Delivery, Inventory, and Productivity are very important, and they should always be taught in this order. Each metric is dependent on the next. Safety drives good quality throughout the organization. Quality drives on-time delivery to customers.

On-time delivery drives inventory down and keeps it predictable. Inventory being down and being predictable increases productivity. Increased productivity drives profits up. If you have great quality, delivery, inventory, and productivity then employees are happier and therefore safety improves or sustains. Kaizen is the best way to drive all of these metrics in the right direction.

Kaizen is the most important ingredient of Lean. An organization's team needs to understand Kaizen, and they need to be part of Kaizen to help drive the Lean methodology throughout any organization. Kaizen is used to eliminate waste in these five metrics that drive organizations to sustainable improvements and profits. Kaizen is the heart of Lean.

Standard work document format.

Standard work document format.

Don't Forget About Standardization!

Every Kaizen should be driving to eliminate waste in all processes and procedures, but once that waste is removed, what should you do?

Create standard work and work instructions to help sustain what you have done during your Kaizen. It would be a waste of time if all you accomplished was gone the next day. That's why it is important to standardize the processes you improved, so the team members can sustain what has been done with little effort.

Creating standard work is easy. During the Kaizen, the team is constantly eliminating waste in the processes identified for potential improvements, so the process steps get smaller and smaller, which makes it easy to document and easy to read.

Applying Standard Work to Any Process

Here are some helpful hints to help you apply standard work to any process:

  1. Pre Kaizen, one should document the process steps and timings in its current state.
  2. During the Kaizen, the team should identify and remove waste from the current state of the process.
  3. During the Kaizen, the team should rewrite the new series of steps with the waste removed.
  4. During the Kaizen, the team should teach the team members working the process how to follow the new steps, which is very important for the next step.
  5. During the Kaizen, the team should retime the process following the new steps, while the team is looking for more waste.
  6. During the Kaizen, the team should repeat steps 1 through 5 until they feel they are in a good position. Don't look for perfection, or you will never get anywhere during your Kaizen, remember, Kaizen is continuous improvement, not perfection.
  7. After the Kaizen, the team should create a final draft of the standard work detailing the improved process and then post it in the work area where the team members working the process can see it without obstruction. The standard work should detail each step and timing for each step in the process. Pictures of the team members performing the steps should be taken to help future team members fully understand the process when being trained. Also, a diagram of the footsteps taken during the process should be drawn out to help keep the team member performing the steps in sync with the process design. This will also help new team members introduced to the process understand what the desired outcome should be from their contribution to the process. On the diagram, it is important to note the safety issues in performing the process, the quality checkpoints in performing the process, and the planned amount of work in progress allowed in the process at any given time.
  8. After the Kaizen, the team should re-analyze the process to see if the improvements are being sustained daily. Sustaining is the hardest part of any improvement from a Kaizen, but with the correct amount of "discipline" and "buy-in" from team members, the process will be sustained, which allows the team to drive towards more improvements in the future. This is the point of a Kaizen!!
Kaizen improvement visual.

Kaizen improvement visual.

Continuously Improve Everything You Do at Your Workplace and in Your Life With Kaizen

The improvement cycle of Kaizen:

  1. Expose the problem or problems.
  2. Identify the true root cause of those problems.
  3. Implement solutions for those identified problems.
  4. Standardize, audit, and sustain the implemented solutions.

Kaizen Commandments

  1. Problems are a good thing. Problems expose opportunities and give you a chance to use your brain.
  2. Get to the root cause of any problem by asking why five times. Then ask any and all other questions because there are no dumb questions. Asking questions drives us to solutions.
  3. Think and create solutions to problems that are possible to achieve. Keep an open mind to the changes, and don't make excuses why the changes or solutions won't work, rather think of how the process or change will work.
  4. Re-evaluate the ideas that were implemented and fixed. Don't seek perfection any implementation is great as long as it is done timely or on the spot.
  5. Don't accept excuse as they are not needed. Excuses will not get the job done. Implement and evaluate.
  6. Implement simple solutions because it should be easy. Don't stretch your self thin, remember, rapid effective change during the kaizen saves money and time.
  7. All titles should be left at the door when in a Kaizen. Titles block the creativity needed to implement the improvement and changes needed to be effective at a Kaizen.
  8. Forget about using capitol to get things done. The use of money is not the purpose of a Kaizen. Ideas are what fuels a Kaizen with a follow up of immediate action. If money is absolutely needed simulate it first and verify it will eliminate waste, but avoid it all cost.
  9. The kaizen philosophy is continuous improvement, which has no limit and no end, so don't accept what you think is perfect as there is never true perfection. There is no end to continually improving anything on the job site or in life using Kaizen.
  10. Most important, don't fool yourself or your team. Reach for simple attainable goals to be successful at a Kaizen. Small steps to an improvement is better than one giant leap to nowhere.
The results of Kaizen

The results of Kaizen

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Daniel J. Carr


Boo Boo Team on February 14, 2014:

Great! Thanks

DestinySuccess from Folsom, California on January 26, 2014:

Great article! It's very informative, and useful!

Management411 on January 26, 2014:

This was informative. I appreciate the worksheet as well. Kaizen seems like a process you can adapt to home and work. My work is adapt to Lean, and this really helps break down to how I may take a better understanding of Kaizen.

Daniel J. Carr (author) from Sacramento, CA on January 26, 2014:

Use this hub to create a Kaizen event at your work place. Let me know if you need help.

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