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Kaizen (改善, Japanese for “improvement”) is a Japanese word adopted into English referring to a philosophy or practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, all business activities, or even all aspects of life, depending on interpretation and usage. When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, Kaizen typically refers to activities that continually improve all functions of a business, from manufacturing to management and from the CEO to the assembly line workers.[1] By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen aims to eliminate waste (see Lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first implemented in several Japanese businesses during the country’s recovery after World War II and has since spread to businesses throughout the world

The Japanese word “kaizen” means simply “improvement,” with no inherent meaning of either “continuous” or “Japanese philosophy”; the word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the mundane English word “improvement”.[3] However, given the common practice in Japan of labeling industrial or business improvement techniques with the word “kaizen” (for lack of a specific Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement” or “philosophy of improvement”), especially in the case of oft-emulated practices spearheaded by Toyota, the word Kaizen in English is typically applied to measures for implementing continuous improvement, or even taken to mean a “Japanese philosophy” thereof. The discussion below focuses on such interpretations of the word, as frequently used in the context of modern management discussions.
Kaizen is a daily activity, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (“muri”), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. The philosophy can be defined as bringing back the thought process into the automated production environment dominated by repetitive tasks that traditionally required little mental participation from the employees.
People at all levels of an organization can participate in Kaizen, from the CEO down, as well as external stakeholders when applicable. The format for Kaizen can be individual, suggestion system, small group, or large group. At Toyota, it is usually a local improvement within a workstation or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity. This group is often guided through the Kaizen process by a line supervisor; sometimes this is the line supervisor’s key role.
While Kaizen (at Toyota) usually delivers small improvements, the culture of continual aligned small improvements and standardization yields large results in the form of compound productivity improvement. This philosophy differs from the “command-and-control” improvement programs of the mid-twentieth century. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting. Large-scale pre-planning and extensive project scheduling are replaced by smaller experiments, which can be rapidly adapted as new improvements are suggested.
In modern usage, a focused kaizen that is designed to address a particular issue over the course of a week is referred to as a “kaizen blitz” or “kaizen event”. These are limited in scope, and issues that arise from them are typically used in later blitzes.

The original kanji characters for this word are: 改 善
In Japanese this is pronounced “kaizen”.[4]
改 (“kai”) means “change” or “the action to correct”.
善 (“zen”) means “good”.
In Korean this is pronounced “ge sun”
改善 (“ge sun”) means “improvement” or “change for the better”
In Mandarin this is pronounced “gai shan”:
改善 (“gǎi shàn”) means “change for the better” or “improve”.
改 (“gǎi”) means “change” or “the action to correct”.
善 (“shàn”) means “good” or “benefit”. “Benefit” is more related to the Taoist or Buddhist philosophy, which gives the definition as the action that ‘benefits’ the society but not one particular individual (i.e., multilateral improvement). In other words, one cannot benefit at another’s expense. The quality of benefit that is involved here should be sustained forever, in other words the “shan” is an act that truly benefits others.

Kaizen is primarily a reactive process where you “check” to see if anything is wrong, then go about fixing it. While this works for lower level processes, it must be advanced to include a creative element where one actively looks for ways of improving – the key being that the worker needs to know what is important to the company to improve. There should also be room for cases where a worker makes a recommendation that doesn’t fit the mold of the company’s target improvements. Many new companies have started due to workers who saw a means of quantum improvement which their original employer failed to recognize despite being highlighted by the worker.

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