History of Kaizen

The History of How the Kaizen Philosophy Gained Global Popularity

Kaizen (ky' zen) is a Japanese philosophy which focuses on making small, continuous improvements. Various organizations around the world have successfully implemented Kaizen theory to achieve efficiency in their businesses.
Kaizen is a Japanese word which loosely translates to "change for better". The term was coined by Masaaki Imai in his book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success. It was in 1950s that Toyota implemented a new method to continuously improve its quality, technology, productivity, and safety measures. This innovative method was know as "Toyota Production System". Kaizen was developed on the thought that continuous small, incremental changes lead to larger changes and transformation occurs. Kaizen created much hype in western countries and today, various organizations have effectively implemented it in their business process.

Kaizen - A Brief History

After the World War II was over, the American occupation forces were assigned the task to help Japan recover from the damages it suffered. American experts, in cooperation with Japanese business managers developed new ways to improve quality and productivity. One of the pioneers in this innovative process was Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries Co. Ltd. He developed widely recognized 'Toyota Production System'. The success of Toyota Production System led many other Japanese companies to adopt a similar technique of small, continual change in their process. Although businessmen and management thinkers in western countries were aware of the fact that Japanese manufacturing companies were one of the most efficient ones in the world, it was not until 1986 that they were introduced to the concept of Kaizen. It was because of the popularity of Masaaki Imai's bestselling book on Kaizen, which was translated in fourteen languages that the whole world got to understand the principles of Kaizen in a better way. Today, along with lean and Six Sigma, Kaizen is implemented by a majority of organizations for ensuring continuous development and efficiency.

The underlying concept behind Kaizen is that it segregates various aspects of business, analyzes each one of them, rectifies the errors, gets rid of waste (Gemba), and then puts them back to achieve efficiency. Kaizen involves improvement in every aspect of business and in this method, it is important that everyone in the organization, from a manager to an entry-level worker, puts in an effort to improve their efficiency. Kaizen also lays emphasis on change and restructuring, and reorganizing are its important characteristics.

Benefits of Kaizen
  • Kaizen helps in ensuring that obstacles and threats are identified at an early stage and these are solved there and then. The Kaizen philosophy believes that small issues, when overlooked, have the capacity to snowball into major threats which can hamper the prospects of a business.
  • Kaizen aims to reduce the 'waste' of an organization through effective management. It looks into every minute detail of business, such as inventory, distribution, manufacturing, losses due to over-production etc. Kaizen believes that there is always a more effective method of doing things and encourages all the employees to brainstorm to come up with innovative ideas to reduce waste. By conducting Kaizen events, an organization can also ensure that the much desired qualities of teamwork and positive morale in the organization are achieved.
  • Organizations who successfully implement Kaizen are good at process-oriented thinking, that is, the end result is as important as the process that has been implemented to achieve it. Unlike most of the Western countries where major emphasis is laid on end-results, Kaizen focuses on every aspect of achieving the result.
These were some of the benefits of Kaizen. Kaizen has proven to be successful in most of the Japanese companies, and it is because of this reason that Kaizen philosophy is being implemented in various other organizations around the world. It is one of the instinctive desire of humans to better themselves with each passing day and, this is basis of Kaizen's philosophy of continuous improvement.