It is founded on the notion that tiny, continual beneficial changes may have a big impact.

Author: Austin Anderson
Austin Anderson
Austin Anderson
Consulting | Data Analysis

Austin has been working with Ernst & Young for over four years, starting as a senior consultant before being promoted to a manager. At EY, he focuses on strategy, process and operations improvement, and business transformation consulting services focused on health provider, payer, and public health organizations. Austin specializes in the health industry but supports clients across multiple industries.

Austin has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and a Masters of Business Administration in Strategy, Management and Organization, both from the University of Michigan.

Reviewed By: Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Christy Grimste
Real Estate | Investment Property Sales

Christy currently works as a senior associate for EdR Trust, a publicly traded multi-family REIT. Prior to joining EdR Trust, Christy works for CBRE in investment property sales. Before completing her MBA and breaking into finance, Christy founded and education startup in which she actively pursued for seven years and works as an internal auditor for the U.S. Department of State and CIA.

Christy has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Maryland and a Master of Business Administrations from the University of London.

Last Updated:December 1, 2023

What Is Kaizen?

A continuous improvement strategy known as kaizen is founded on the notion that tiny, continual beneficial changes may have a big impact. It often relies on commitment and collaboration in contrast to methods that rely on drastic or top-down changes to bring about transformation.

Lean manufacturing and the Toyota Way both depend on it. It was created for industrial concerns and organizations to improve productivity, inspire worker accountability & purpose, reduce errors, and decrease waste.

It has been embraced in many other areas, including healthcare since it is a wide notion that may be interpreted in many different ways. It may be used on a personal level and in every aspect of a business. 

This concept can make use of a variety of strategies and tools, including value stream mapping, which records, examines, and enhances the information or material flows necessary to produce a good or service, and total quality management, a framework for management that mobilizes employees at all levels to concentrate on quality enhancements.

Regardless of methodology, the effective use of it in an organizational environment depends on securing backing for the strategy from the CEO on down. 

It is a combination of two Japanese terms that mean "positive change" or "improvement" individually. However, because of its connection to lean technique and ideals, it has come to signify "continuous improvement."

The post-World War II, Japanese quality circles are where kaizen first emerged. These teams or rings of employees concentrated on reducing errors at Toyota. 

They were created in part in reaction to American productivity and management consultants who visited the nation, particularly W. Edwards Deming, who urged that line employees should have greater direct control over quality. 

Masaaki Imai's book Kaizen: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success, published in 1986, introduced and popularized this concept in the West.

Understanding Kaizen

Quality assurance, just-in-time delivery, standard work, the use of effective tools, and waste minimization are a few of the main goals of the concept. 

Making incremental adjustments over time to enhance a business is the overarching purpose of this technique. That does not imply that changes go gradually. 

The approach acknowledges that little adjustments made today might have significant effects down the road. Any employee, at any moment, can make improvements. 

Everyone should always work to improve the business model since everyone has a stake in the company's success.

The idea has been embraced by several businesses. Most significantly, Toyota uses the definition and philosophy internally. 

The concept is regarded as one of its guiding principles. Toyota enables all workers to find potential areas for improvement and provide workable solutions to enhance its manufacturing system.

  • Principles of Kaizen: The five principles are fundamental to its application.
  • Know Your Customer: One produces value by being aware of the audience to which they are marketing a good or service. To improve their experience, businesses must determine what their customers are interested in.
  • Let It Flow: This is relevant to the goal of producing zero waste. Though it could be an impossibility, that's kaizen for you: if you succeed in your aim, progress will halt. As a result, everyone in the firm is trying to reduce waste in their particular area of the business while simultaneously adding value.
  • Go to Gemba: Gemba means "the true location" in the literal sense. Leadership and understanding what is going on at every level of the company are key in this situation. You might see it as doing what is being done since the value is generated where the action is being taken. Where you want to be is there.
  • Empower People: This one focuses on teams and how to arrange them such that the concepts are supported. As a result, leadership must define objectives for their teams that are consistent with one another. To assist the teams in achieving these objectives, they should provide a structure and tools.
  • Be Transparent: The strongest determining factor is data. It is the metric used to determine success. Therefore, actual data must be used to track performance and improvements.

The Five S's of Kaizen (5S)

To increase efficiency, improve visual management, and encourage the adoption of standardized functioning, 5S is a straightforward yet effective method for arranging a workplace. 

Instead of making the workplace more attractive, the primary goal of 5S is to promote the efficient movement of goods, information, and people.

1. Seiri; Sort, Clearing, Classify

Set up criteria to distinguish between any office supplies that are required and those that are not to start with. 

This method of sorting gets rid of clutter and guarantees that a messy office won't hinder productivity. 

Then you may keep the appropriate goods close to where you'll utilize them. The amount of floor space required for that area will decrease as a consequence of this action.

2. Seiton; Straighten, Simplify, Set in Order

The next stage of the event is to make sure everything is set up in a way that makes it simple to locate and retrieve. The essential things might be further divided into those needed frequently, irregularly, and very infrequently. 

The placement of goods needed for work should follow these three categories, with those used often being the most accessible. 

Move anything far away or into long-term storage if you don't use it very often. Reduced time spent and increased production are the results of this action.

3. Seiso; Sweep, Shine, Scrub, Clean, and Check

Cleaning up the workspace is the third phase. The group might start by properly cleaning the workspaces to get rid of any stains or grime. 

It's also vital to keep in mind that one of these goals is to enhance safety conditions, so it might be helpful to check for places where safety markers need to be repainted. 

This shouldn't take too long if your workspace is already somewhat organized and tidy. This action aims to build a new habit of keeping things tidy while also improving the appearance of the workplace and the team.

4. Seiketsu; Standardize, Stabilize, Conformity

Running an event may be entertaining and extremely gratifying since it cleans up untidy workspaces and creates a proud work atmosphere for all employees. The benefits of this occurrence will not last long if they're not sustained. 

The finest suggestions from the workforce are compared and chosen through standardization. 

They are shared amongst various value streams, divisions, and places. To reduce confusion, signs, labels, colors, practices, and markings are made uniformly and distributed throughout the company.

5. Shitsuke; Sustain, Self Discipline, Standardization

Last but not least, you must ensure that the senior leadership includes those individuals who will be accountable for the ongoing success and maintenance of the 5S effort. 

The 5S methodology should be ingrained in everyday management processes as part of this ownership feeling. 

To guarantee that staff members uphold the new processes they built, leadership should ensure departments conduct self-audits. 

Unquestionably, keeping individuals from reverting to their old behaviors once the event is over is the most challenging aspect of organizing it.

To make the 5S phases a permanent component of the corporate culture, communications, and processes are also implemented. 

The only thing you need to keep in mind is to make the 5S maintenance concepts as straightforward and simple to apply as feasible.

Advantages and disadvantages Of Kaizen

There are several ways that this technique might benefit a company, but there are also some circumstances when it is less appropriate. 


  • In contrast to major initiatives that could be abandoned because of their propensity to arouse backlash and resistance to change, it's emphasis on incremental improvement might lead to a kinder attitude to change.

  • It promotes process examination to cut down on errors and waste.

  • Less control and inspection are required since there are fewer mistakes.

  • Since it promotes a sense of worth and purpose, employee morale increases.

  • As workers look outside the confines of their department, they develop a stronger sense of teamwork.

  • As employees become more conscious of consumer needs, their attention on the client increases.

  • Systems are in place to guarantee that both short-term and long-term gains are fostered.


  • To develop a welcoming atmosphere, businesses with territorial and closed cultures may need to concentrate on cultural reforms initially.

  • Short-term activities of this technique might result in a brief, superficial enthusiasm spike that is not sustained.

  • Some businesses are required to undergo a significant transformation in their mentality and way of operating. This may be quite challenging at times, and the initial issues raised can have a serious negative impact on the company as a whole. 

  • Utilizing a new management style typically causes the initial excitement to fade much too quickly. In the end, businesses are unable to achieve the outcomes they had hoped for. However, it gives the impression that this management approach is completely ineffective.

Just-in-Time Inventory Strategy

Reducing waste and boosting production cycle efficiency is one of the main aims of the process. By coordinating the supply of raw materials from suppliers with production schedules, management may reduce excess inventory using a just-in-time (JIT) inventory strategy.

Because manufacturers do not have to pay inventory carrying costs, the JIT method, also known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), helps businesses save money. 

Additionally, it lessens waste because businesses are not left with additional inventory if a consumer cancels an order.

A JIT technique is utilized in conjunction with the inventory control method known as Kanban. It gives workers visual indicators that alert them when it's time to order more supplies when they run low.

The system uses colored cards to track production and notify staff when it's time to restock a depleted supply of a material or item. 

Employees may easily order the precise amount of items from the supplier and have them delivered to the plant location where they are needed.

The purpose of Kanban is to guarantee the smooth operation of the manufacturing assembly line and to avoid bottlenecks.

Some Examples Of Kaizen

Although Toyota is likely most well-known for its application of Kaizen, other businesses have had success with the strategy. Here are three illustrations:

  • Locksmith Martin: The aerospace business is a well-known advocate of the concept. It has effectively employed the technique to cut back on production expenses, inventory, and delivery times.

  • Automaker Ford: In 2006, Ford was on the verge of bankruptcy when lean enthusiast Alan Mulally was named CEO. Mulally carried through one of the most well-known business turnarounds in history using this concept.

  • Animation studios Pixar: By utilizing quality control checks and iterative methods, Pixar used the continuous improvement concept to lower the chances of pricey movie failure.

  • Nestlé: Value stream mapping is a tool that is frequently connected to Kaizen and was utilized by Nestlé Waters. To guarantee that procedures were as effective as possible, they designed a new bottling facility.

To decrease waste and the amount of time and materials that might be squandered in their operations, Nestlé has been trying to continuously enhance its processes.

Kaizen FAQs

Researched and authored by Tanay Gehi | Linkedin

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