Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy that emphasizes continuous improvement and forms the basis of modern manufacturing and supply chains, among other systems across the world.
The Kaizen philosophy asserts that organizational improvements are a result of small, incremental improvements on an almost daily basis, and require the contribution of all employees at all levels, from CEOs to managers to field staff.
What Does Kaizen Mean?
The word ‘Kaizen’ is derived from 2 words – Kai (change) and Zen (better). Together, the word Kaizen translates to ‘change for better’. It loosely translates to the word ‘improvement’.
However, Kaizen is more than just a word; it’s a business philosophy. It strongly endorses continuous improvement across the organization on a routine basis as the driving force of massive improvements in productivity, efficiency, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, elimination of waste, and other aspects of organizational performance.
Why Small Changes?
The Kaizen philosophy urges that every employee within an organization has a stake in its success, and therefore, they all should strive to make improvements routinely at all times. The changes need not necessarily be slow. Also, “small” does not mean insignificant. The Kaizen philosophy recognizes that small changes each day can accumulate together to create massive improvements in the future.
Why is Kaizen Important?
Kaizen is more than an abstract philosophy on self-improvement and continuous improvement. It is a time-tested and proven business philosophy that was developed in Japan to bring revolutionary improvements to the country’s manufacturing industry and supply chains.
Traditionally, Kaizen focuses on 5 guiding principles, which are known as Five S, as described below:
1. “Seiri” Means “Sort Out”
The Seiri principle urges employees to organize their tasks and prioritize them. The tasks must be sorted into different groups and labeled ‘Necessary’, ‘Critical’, ‘Most Important’, ‘Useless’, and so on. Throw away everything useless.
2. “Seition” Means “Set in Order”
Seition is all about efficiency. Reduce wastage of time and energy by organizing everything in a manner that makes it easy to retrieve and use when required.
3. “Seiso” Means “Shine”
Seiso is all about cleaning the workplace and decluttering it. With a “everyone is a janitor” principle, Seiso inspires employees to maintain a clean work area that makes a good impression and, more importantly, keeps the workplace safe, lean, and free from errors.
4. “Seiketsu” Means “Standardize”
Seiketsu is the standardization of the processes involved in Seiri, Seition, and Seiso. The establishment of standard processes and schedules for executing Seiri, Seition, and Seiso routinely ensure that they are done promptly.
5. “Shitsuke” Means “Self-discipline”
Shitsuke is about developing the processes that will enable an employee to execute the other four S, without external stimulus. In other words, it is about inculcating a proactive approach towards self-improvement.
As may be evident by now, Kaizen focuses on self-improvement as the path towards organizational improvement. Small but consistent positive changes in oneself and organizational activities are critical to producing paradigm shifts in organizational effectiveness and efficiency.