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What Is Kaizen in Management? - Definition, Examples & Process

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  • 0:01 What Is Kaizen?
  • 0:57 How Do You Implement Kaizen?
  • 2:04 Personal Kaizen
  • 2:41 What Can Go Wrong?
  • 3:30 What Are the Alternatives?
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Carol Woods

Carol has taught college Finance, Accounting, Management and Business courses and has a MBA in Finance.

Kaizen is a Japanese word for 'continuous improvement.' Kaizen methods can be used to improve the results of any firm and can also be used in your personal life. Read on to learn the what, how and why of kaizen.

What Is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement. It's made up of two characters in Japanese: kai, which means 'change,' and zen, which means 'good.' It's used to describe a company culture where everyone, from the CEO to the front desk clerk, regularly evaluates his or her work and thinks of ways to improve it. The concept is that small steps on a regular basis will lead to large improvements over time.

Kaizen is a slow but ongoing process of improvement, not a 'blitz' or quickly implemented set of changes. The improvements are suggested by the person doing the work, not an outside evaluation team. If a worker has a problem to address or is considering whether a change will make sense, he should pull in several team members for a quick discussion and brainstorming session and then decide what to do from there.

How Do You Implement Kaizen?

It's important to note that kaizen is a way of thinking, not a project to complete. To implement it, all employees should receive training on the concept of kaizen and should have some guidelines in terms of what they need to do before implementing a change. For example, it may be fine for an office worker to change his or her handling of paperwork without any discussion. A change in the production process, though, may impact multiple teams and should be discussed with all impacted parties before implementation. In addition, most production steps will be subject to safety regulations and will have detailed documentation on accurate performance, and these need to be in place before a change is made.

It's also important that management is trained and be behind the effort. Kaizen will result in many more suggestions for improvements and changes and will take away from a rigid focus on moving items quickly through the existing production process. Management must be ready to accept some time away from current work to focus on changes with longer-range impact.

Personal Kaizen

So far, we've discussed kaizen in a business setting. It can also be used in other settings, including your personal life. To implement it, just set a regular time for reflection on the things you do - perhaps daily at a specific time or a couple of times per week. Pay special attention to regular things you do that don't go very well. Perhaps your family is always in the car later than planned? Do you dread a specific chore on the weekend that takes a long time? Look for small ways you can improve these practices, and be patient! Over time, small improvements will combine into faster, better ways to do the things you need to accomplish.

What Can Go Wrong?

Kaizen is a new way of looking at things, and as with any change, things can go wrong. Here are some common issues with implementations:

  • Management doesn't support change: one of the underlying assumptions in kaizen is that employees are able to make small, ongoing changes in their work. If management does not allow modifications, the effort will fail.
  • Frustration with slow results: some companies and cultures focus on quick, dramatic improvements and can find a focus on making small changes very frustrating.
  • Employees not motivated to change: in some companies, members of the long-term staff have performed the same function for many years in the same way. They may be reluctant to consider alternatives to their current methods or to change any aspects of their proven model.

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