A Japanese word variously translated as continuous improvement or good change. It came to prominence in a management context in the immediate post-World War 2 period. As practiced at Toyota Motors in Japan, ten Kaizen principles were suggested.

Ref. Principle

  1. Abolish old, traditional concepts and assumptions.
  2. Say NO to the status quo and assume new methods will work.
  3. Accept no excuses instead look for ways to make things happen.
  4. Do not expect or worry about perfection, but look to continually improve - starting now.
  5. If something is wrong, correct it
  6. Be economical. Save money through small improvements and spend the saved money on further improvements
  7. Empower everyone to think of ways to solve problems. Good ideas flow when the going gets tough
  8. Before making decisions, ask why five times to get to the root cause.
  9. Get information/opinions from multiple people (ten people rather than one).
  10. Improvement has no limits. Never stop trying to improve.

It should be noted that Kaizen reflects the traditional Asian respect for order and continuity. This is even more noticeable with the 5 S's (five Japanese words beginning with S), which some Western consultants have chosen to link with the Kaizen principles.

Japanese Word
Interpretation in a management context.
Clean the workplace; everyone should be a cleaner (janitor)
Establish set routines for maintaining cleanliness
Set everything in its proper place for quick retrieval and storage
Throw away all rubbish and unrelated materials in the workplace
Practice 'Five S' daily - make it a way of life; this also means 'commitment'

Clearly Kaizen and 5S can add considerable value and also bring behavioural benefits in relatively steady state environments. However, from the 1970's onwards the increasing pace of change in products, markets and technology sometimes exposed the inherent limitations of these philosophies.

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