Management Basics: The 5 Principles of the Kaizen Philosophy

Annalena Simonis, Thursday 30 September 2021 | Reading time: 4 min.

Change always starts within each of us. The Kaizen management philosophy from Japan has internalized this fundamental idea. Here are the five most important basics for continuous change and improvement in your organization.

Kaizen is a life and work philosophy that originated in Japanese manufacturing technology, particularly in the post-war automotive industry. Today, this way of thinking is also considered an important pillar of long-term competitive strategies in the Western business world. In English, the concept has been adopted under the term Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) and is an essential component of innovation and quality management.

The philosophy literally stands for constant change and improvement and is a compound of the Japanese words Kai (=change) and Zen (=to the better). However, the goal of Kaizen is not to make progress with rapid innovations but to achieve great entrepreneurial success in the long term with many small steps and improvements. In Japan, this is called the "art of small steps". The goal is not to let a day go by without some kind of improvement in the organization. To achieve this, all employees have to understand and live by the principles of Kaizen. This requires all areas of the company to adhere to the following five fundamental principles on the path to continuous improvement.

1. Customer Satisfaction

In Kaizen, the customer is king. The company can only be successful if its customers are satisfied. This includes both external and internal customers. The external customer is the end user who will hold the finished product in their hands. But also, within the company, other colleagues, departments or branches must be treated as internal customers in order to create continuous improvements through interdisciplinary collaboration.

2. Quality

Quality is a high standard in Kaizen and is continuously monitored. For this purpose, defined quality indicators are monitored parallel to production with the help of elaborate measurement procedures (Total Quality Management).

3. Process orientation

Kaizen breaks with traditional results-oriented management. This philosophy focuses on processes. They must be constantly documented and improved in the company. This applies to core processes such as production or logistics, but also to supporting processes such as human resources.

4. Orientation towards criticism

All employees are encouraged to make suggestions for improvement. In Kaizen, criticism is seen as an opportunity and is therefore not only accepted, but even desired. The suggestions are checked for their feasibility and then contribute to change and improvement. This creates an endless cycle of planning (Plan), implementation (Do), control (Check) and improvement (Act) (PDCA cycle).

5. Standardization

If a change has proven to be an enhancement in the long term, it should be permanently integrated into the organization’s processes. The aim is to set uniform standards for activities, processes and workplaces. These standards result from the achieved improvements and should help to save material, money and time. This way waste of any kind will be minimized. When a standardization process is completed, a new improvement can be targeted.

 

To implement these 5 basics of the Kaizen method, there are numerous methods and techniques. The important thing is that improvement can happen anywhere, whether it's people, machines or materials. Everything can be reviewed and improved to optimize quality and minimize waste.

 


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