Kaizen Guide

Learn more about the basics of kaizen, how it improves quality and productivity, and how to successfully drive continuous improvement in the organization.

What is the meaning of Kaizen?

Learn more about the basics of kaizen meaning, how it improves quality and productivity, and how to successfully drive continuous improvement in the organization.


What is the Kaizen method?

Kaizen is a Japanese term that, by definition, means "good change", "change for the better" or "improvement". The kaizen philosophy promotes a way of thinking in which small changes that build up over time produce an enormous impact. Improvement is an ongoing process that cannot be achieved in the first step. As a methodology, companies apply kaizen management by involving everyone - from top management to employees - in everyday changes, in the knowledge that many small improvements lead to significant results.

History and Development of Kaizen

The roots of Kaizen can be traced back to the period after the Second World War, when economic reform took over Japan. Since the Toyota Motor Corporation introduced the system of creative idea proposals in May 1951, changes and innovations have led to higher product quality and worker productivity, thus contributing significantly to the company's development.

In September 1955, Japanese executives officially began a visit to the United States as part of the Japan Productivity Center. The integration of American business practices with a humanized approach finally brought Japanese companies into global competitiveness. In the 1980s, management consultant Masaaki Imai worked with Taiichi Ohno to spread the message of the Toyota Production System (TPS) that the result of several years of continuous improvement.

Masaaki Imai, considered the father of kaizen, introduced kaizen as a systematic management method worldwide as the key to Japan's competitive success (1986). Today, organizations in various industries adopt kaizen methods as part of their core values and practice continuous improvement every day using Six Sigma and Lean concepts.

"Kaizen is a daily improvement - every day is a challenge to find a better way of doing things. It takes tremendous self-discipline and commitment." - Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute

Key Elements and Basic Principles of the Kaizen Method

It is almost impossible to implement Kaizen in the workplace, as management usually expects immediate results. Companies often miss improved workflows and optimized business processes, which bring a business advantage by focusing too much on results. To increase the benefits of kaizen, the following elements and principles should be clearly understood before applying them in context.

Management Commitment

One of the most common reasons for the failure of kaizen implementation is the lack of support and, more importantly, of action by the leadership. As Imai notes, "The most critical role in implementing this kaizen approach is played by the top management of the company, then every manager, and then it goes to the employees at the base. When management demonstrates its long-term commitment to continuous improvement, managers inevitably enforce kaizen initiatives and employees personally develop a kaizen mentality.

Empowering Employees

The employee who does the work would know the best ways to improve the work. Managers should create an environment in which employees feel empowered to do their part, so that suggestions for enhancing the company can come from all levels. Encouraging employees to continue to add value to the organization not only increases morale, but also allows everyone take ownership of continuous improvement efforts, which contributes to the successful implementation of Kaizen.


Achieving operational efficiency begins where the real work is done. A Gemba Walk - derived from the term Gemba or Gembutsu, meaning "the actual place" - is usually performed by managers to learn or review how a particular process works and to gain insight from employees about how to improve it. Gemba Walk checklists guide observers to ask relevant questions to determine the root cause of problems and next steps.

Kaizen 5S

One of the biggest obstacles to continuous improvement is the adherence to old practices or the assumption that new methods will fail. The 5S Principles aim to improve efficiency in the workplace by continually looking for ways to eliminate waste. Companies should not think that something that has worked before will continue to work. The 6S of Lean Principles added 5S Safety and emphasized the establishment of preventive controls for safe working practices.

"Progress cannot be made if we are satisfied with the existing situations." - Taiichi Ohno, Father of TPS - The Basis of Lean Production

A quick Guide to the Kaizen Process

Since the Kaizen meaning is a step-by-step process, the path to its effective implementation can only be preceded by asking the right questions. Learning the core elements and basic principles of kaizen makes the organization successful because it lays the foundation for how results should be expected. Here are the key guiding questions to help start (and continue) with continuous improvement initiatives in the workplace:

1. What is the root cause of the problem?

If a culture that is resistant to constant change is terrible, then it is worse to invest resources in solving the wrong problem. Leaders should deepen their assumptions about what is wrong through Gemba Walk and root cause analysis — putting themselves in a better position to identify quality gaps by personally communicating with employees and observing their work first hand. Not criticizing, not finding mistakes and blaming people; but instead, generously accepting everything that happens, because this is a more accurate reality of a typical workday.

2. How can we fix the root cause of the problem?

One of the most straightforward techniques for dealing with the problem is five-week analysis. Determining the root cause of a problem can be useful in formulating solutions that prevent it from recurring. Armed with creative suggestions from employees and supported by valuable information about where the work is happening, managers can now implement cost-effective but high-quality improvements that are consistent with the organization's quality objectives.

3. Are changes implemented consistently, by everyone and in all areas?

Management demonstrates its commitment to continuous improvement by taking immediate action on small, incremental changes and responding with active, long-term initiatives, changing the personal way of working and taking note of its impact on the quality of work. Kaizen is for everyone - not just team members - and should take place everywhere, not only in the workshop. Save time and money in manual monitoring at different locations and all levels of the organization by centralizing kaizen management.

4. What is the impact of our continuous improvement efforts?

Individuals tend to give up implementing kaizen because they don't immediately see or feel the difference their seemingly small actions are making throughout the organization. The A3 report or 8D report is an ideal document to share with employees because it monitors performance and measures the effectiveness of the changes implemented and has been proven to communicate the impact of kaizen initiatives effectively. Typically, continuous improvement that is done right leads to positive, lasting results that provide significant value to the entire organization. Keep the most effective solutions in mind to know what actions the organization needs to stop, start and continue.

5. How else can we improve?


An attitude of perfectionism does not characterize the path of continuous improvement, but by the desire for growth - both personally and organizationally. It is good to achieve 50% of the improvement goals now; to celebrate victory but never stop improving. Proactive solutions to problems in the workplace, because Kaizen is a continuous process. The Kaizen cycle aims to continue to produce industry-leading innovations through years of constant improvement.

"There is nothing that cannot be done. If there's something you can't do, it's because you haven't tried hard enough." - Sakichi Toyoda, Inventor of the world's first automatic loom with non-stop shuttle change

Kaizen Flash: A Starting Point in the Path of Kaizen

As a short-term measure with visible benefits within weeks, a Kaizen flash enables project management teams to quickly achieve a high level of commitment from the people involved and maintain the interest of top management. As a short-term approach with visible benefits within weeks, a kaizen flash enables project management teams to quickly achieve a high level of commitment from the people involved and maintain the interest of top management. A five-day kaizen flash can set organizations in motion to intentionally build a kaizen culture, but it should not replace the implementation of the kaizen cycle.

Kaizen Flash Example:

1. Before the Kaizen Event

  • To receive the support of a sponsor from the top management team

  • Present the project size, SMART objectives and resources required

  • Form the cross-functional Blitz team

  • Collect the necessary data to define the necessary improvements

  • Informing the Blitz team and other key players

2. During the Kaizen Event

  • Day 1: Kaizen flash introduction by top management. Blitz team training to improve and review the project with a high-level map of the Blitz process

  • Day 2: Gemba-Kaizen with a process map and problem-solving with supporting data

  • Day 3: Data analysis and development of practical solutions such as 5S-Kaizen

  • Day 4: Refining, prioritizing and implementing solutions

  • Day 5: Preparation and planning of continuous improvement and presentation of results and recommendations to top management

3. After the Kaizen Event

  • Continue to implement improvements, especially for actions that were overlooked during the flash

  • Communicate project changes to key stakeholders and all employees

  • Coordinate the effects of the Kaizen flash (compared to the project goals) with top management

"Long-term commitment to new learning and a modern philosophy are required of every management team that strives for transformation. The timid and weak and the people who expect quick results will always be disappointed. - W. Edwards Deming, Author of "Out of the Crisis" (1986)

Success in Kaizen Management

A long-term commitment is required to maximize the benefits of Kaizen by consistently making incremental changes in daily operations. Improved quality, productivity and safety through kaizen lean management in the workplace leads to higher employee morale, customer satisfaction and company revenue. The use of intelligent technology can help companies efficiently manage daily continuous improvement efforts and consistently solve problems with cost-effective solutions.

Kaizen Examples today:

1. Toyota Motor Manufacturing (United Kingdom)

Cost-effective creative innovations such as Dougal, reducing wasted motion by moving parts with workers, and speeding up tedious tasks by using simple tools (such as a sticker picker) save a total of 35.1 seconds per car - saving nearly ten years of labor when applied globally in 2018. Without a doubt, Kaizen has made Toyota the first company in the world to produce more than 10 million cars in one year.

2. TOTO, Ltd.

The Japanese manufacturer of sanitary taps also benefited from the Kaizen method of quality improvement, with its Washlet brand selling over 50 million units worldwide. At Sunaqua TOTO, Ltd., Kaizen helps to create a comfortable working environment for people with disabilities. Kaizen has led them to redesign the waste bins for more comfortable transportation and rearrange the materials for easier handling. Toshiyuki Masatsugu thought about stabilizing hanging screwdrivers with flexible cords, which saved an additional 3.33 working hours per month. For a company with 100 minimum-wage employees, his kaizen practice saved up to ¥13,385,476.125 ($124,337.94) each year. According to Masatsugu, "When you come up with a new technique like this, you really feel like you have achieved something. It's fun for all of us to think and work together to make our work better".

3. Studies on Organizational Intervention

Danish Post's postal delivery staff have only limited influence on how tasks are performed and decisions are made about the working environment. The results show that over several years the introduction of Kaizen has helped them to increase awareness and ability to cope with problems, which has led to higher job satisfaction and mental health. Kaizen management at a Swedish regional hospital predicted a better integration of organisational and employee goals after 12 months. The results suggest that participatory and structured problem-solving approaches that are visual and familiar to people can facilitate regulatory interventions.

By adopting Kaizen as a principle for improving the quality of work, the organisation is aligned towards operational excellence. Since small, incremental improvements over time produce big results, kaizen should be started or continued today. Be encouraged by the Toyota founder: "Before you say you can't do something, try it."

Kaizen Tools

Easy implementation and monitoring of continuous improvement efforts using mobile Kaizen tools.

Featured templates

Process Validation Report Template

Process Validation Report Template

Such a template is used in the pharmaceutical industry to document everything properly. See template

General GMP Checklist

General GMP Checklist

This General GMP Compliance Checklist can be used during regular site inspections to evaluate overall adherence to manufacturing protocols. See template

Kaizen Report Template

Kaizen Report Template

Use this Kaizen report template to easily define the project, category and section/process and to perform other processes. See template