Kaizen (pronounced ki-zen) is a Japanese word constructed from two ideographs, the first of which represents change and the second goodness or virtue.
Kaizen is commonly used to indicate the long-term betterment of something or someone (continuous improvement) as in the phrase Seikatsu o kaizen suru which means to “better one’s life.”
The term Kaizen is used in two ways. The first use is consistent with the phrase continuous improvement. The second use is as the label for a group of methods that improve work processes.
Kaizen as Continuous Improvement
In its first use, Kaizen means the pursuit of perfection in all one does. In this sense, Kaizen represents the element of continuous improvement that is a fundamental part of the Quality Model. In a business context, it includes all activities, personal and teamed, that leverage learning to make processes better at satisfying customer requirements.
Kaizen as Methods for Work Process Improvement
In its second use, Kaizen identifies a group of methods for making work process improvements. The methods that have been placed under the label Kaizen are varied and range from suggestion systems (Teian Kaizen) to planned events conducted in the workplace that systematically uncover waste in a work process and eliminate it (Gemba Kaizen).
Methods of Kaizen
Kaizen eliminates waste by allowing workers to uncover improvement opportunities and either suggest or make changes. In common usage, the term Kaizen may refer to different kinds of improvement activities.
Common Elements of Kaizen Methods
What all Kaizen methods have in common is that they
(1) involve, at a minimum, the workers who execute a work process,
(2) focus on improving the performance of that work process,
(3) seek to make incremental improvements, and
(4) are intended to be repeated over time.