Kaizen Method

We explain what the Kaizen method in quality management is and its basic steps. In addition, we tell you its origin and how it is implemented.

Workers work in a factory where the kaizen method is used
The Kaizen method works on what already exists, eliminating waste and optimizing tasks.

What is the Kaizen method?

In the business world and specifically in relation to quality management, a dynamic of continuous improvement of industrial processes that is based on simple, concrete and cheap changes throughout the business structure, which involve both the worker base and the management leadership. It is a method of oriental origin, whose Sino-Japanese name kaizen (改善) can be translated as “good changes” or “change for the better.”

Kaizen is a method very much in contact with the philosophies of the eastern part of the world, such as Zen Buddhism and Taoism, and its fundamental postulate is that Both employees and managers must change their mentality in a coordinated manner. This approach to business hierarchy as a unified and reciprocal whole, in which one part cannot exist without the other, has more to do with the philosophical concepts of yin-yang than with the top-down view of the West.

Specifically, the Kaizen method proposes a system of continuous improvement of the business organization, based on the understanding of its processes over time. Thus, it works on what already exists, eliminating waste, optimizing productive tasks and promoting business synergy, aiming for concrete and simple changes that translate into both qualitative and quantitative results in the short term.

See also: Project management

Origin of the Kaizen method

Kaoru Ishikawa was a Japanese industrial chemist and business manager.
One of the main promoters of the Kaizen method was Kaoru Ishikawa.

The Kaizen method emerged in Japan in the mid-20th century, after the Second World War, during the American presence in this eastern power. At that time, the Japanese industries dedicated to the manufacture of weapons and war supplies were adapted with the help of American training programs for civilian purposes, which represented an important opportunity to combine Western pragmatism with the ancient philosophy of Eastern improvement.

The Japanese They quickly assimilated American organizational teachings and were soon able to formulate them in their own way.which gave rise to the philosophy of kaizen or continuous improvement.

One of the main promoters of this method was the Japanese industrial chemist and business administrator Kaoru Ishikawa (1915-1989), considered the father of scientific analysis of the causes of problems in industrial processes. His ideas contributed to the creation of the CTC or Total Quality Control, a current in which the Kaizen method is inserted.

The Kaizen philosophy

The philosophical precepts of Kaizen are not only applied to industrial processes, but can be transferred to different aspects of daily life. Its fundamental perspective is that Process control can occur through small continuous changes for the better, rather than revolutionizing the system or taking radical actions.

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This principle can be found in different doctrines of Eastern thought or beliefin which the whole is understood as a harmonious integration of its parts, and it is accepted that a minimal change in any of them has enough power to alter the result and promote positive change.

The five S’s of the Kaizen method

“The five S’s” are the basic steps proposed by Kaizen, each of which is assigned a keyword in Japanese: seiri (“sort out”), seiton (“organize”), six (“clean”), seiketsu (“standardize”) and shitsuke (“self-discipline”).

  • Seiri. The first of “the five S’s” can be understood as “classifying”, that is, distinguishing between useful and useless elements, between what is vital and what is accessory, in order to do without everything that distracts, divides or hinders efforts and delays. progress.
  • Seiton. Once the available elements have been classified, useful elements must be organized according to practical criteria: each process and object is assigned a fixed location and name, to minimize search times and avoid useless efforts.
  • Seiso. Cleaning is the third key point of the Kaizen method, and can refer to both the elimination of unnecessary elements or elements that hinder productivity, as well as the physical cleanliness of the work environment. This improves work experience and reduces the risk of accidents.
  • Seiketsu. Standardization is key to the gradual improvement of a company’s processes, since by applying the same criteria and measurement parameters, the right information can be obtained for correct decision-making and increased productivity. The idea is that all parts of the organization share the same work perspective.
  • Shitsuke. Once the processes are optimized, the promotion of self-discipline is required to sustain them over time and not relapse into old habits, which could sabotage the changes achieved. Once the new work method is implemented, self-discipline will make it natural.

How is the Kaizen method applied?

The application of the Kaizen method may vary depending on the situation of each company, given that its starting point is always the current operating situation; The Kaizen method distrusts the clean slate. Its methodology is based on the application of “The five S’s” and in turn the PDCA cycle, that is, the four-step circuit identified with these acronyms in English: plan (planning), do (materialization), check (check) and act (performance).

  • Planning. It consists of setting goals based on the identification of the company’s problems. These objectives must be clear and achievable, and must be addressed by an appropriate team.
  • Materialization. It consists of the implementation of the plan prepared based on a calendar defined by priorities.
  • Verification. It consists of the analysis of the degree of compliance with what was planned and the identification of errors, inefficiencies and inconsistencies.
  • Performance. It consists of applying the necessary corrections to deal with the problems that arose in the previous phases, and also obtaining information that allows new future planning.
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On the other hand, the practical implementation of the Kaizen method can occur through different tools in a company, depending on its objective reality. These tools are:

  • Kaizen Groups. Understood as quality circles, these groups are made up of four members, a leader and a methodological advisor, and their purpose is to apply the PMCA method, that is, observe, analyze, act and correct in a very specific area of ​​their work.
  • Kaizen 2 days 2 hours. Also called “Kaizen Nissan”, since it was successfully implemented in the Japanese automobile company of that name, it is based on the idea of ​​improving productivity by changing certain workplace dynamics. For two days, a kaizen group spends two hours optimizing a specific job, analyzing its situation and applying simple and immediate changes.
  • Kaizen Kobetsu. It consists of a method of applying rapid and focused improvements in a specific area of ​​the production process, either individually or through functional groups. This can be done in short and repeated periods, involving groups of between 5 and 12 people, or in mass kaizen events in which multidisciplinary exchange is encouraged within the company.
  • Kaizen Teian. Focused on minimizing losses and maximizing productivity, this model is based on the notion that all ideas are useless if they are not implemented. So a process is evaluated and a series of simple, inexpensive and immediate improvements are accumulated, often through the implementation of a suggestion box, thus encouraging employee commitment to improving their own workplace.

Benefits of the Kaizen method

The benefits of the Kaizen method are usually appreciated in the short and medium term, and generally have to do with the following:

  • Productivity improvement and reduction of process times, by getting rid of superfluities and factors that slow down work.
  • Cost reduction of work and reduction of waste levels.
  • Better business time management of work, which allows greater flexibility without risks of decreased efficiency.
  • Greater commitment from the workers and the steering committee.
  • Facilities for work conciliation and dialogue between the parties.
  • Document management optimizationby streamlining the management of information.

Examples of application of the Kaizen method

A vintage car at the Toyota museum in Japan.
One of the first companies to apply the Kaizen method in history was Toyota.

Some historical examples of Kaizen application in different companies are:

  • The case of Toyota. One of the first companies to apply the Kaizen method in history was Toyota, according to the model planned by the founder, Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro Toyoda and the engineer Taiichi Ohno. Thus, a highly effective model was born that dispensed with the accumulation of raw materials and reduced processing times, by being inspired by the supermarket replenishment model, in which new merchandise is placed based on consumption needs and not on those of production. This principle was later designated as the Kanban method or “just in time” method.
  • The Honda case. This automotive company of Japanese origin implemented the Kaizen method after its largest competitor, the Toyota company, did so in the second half of the 20th century. In the case of Honda, the Kaizen method consisted of the formation of quality circles (called New Honda Circles) who competed with each other in the identification and resolution of company problems, thus fostering a spirit of extremely high commitment among workers.
  • The case of Sony. The application of the Kaizen method in the electronic products company Sony is much more recent than in the two previous cases, but it also consisted of a policy of total quality control, under the title of “zero defects.” To achieve this, quality Kaizen groups were created that, through small modifications, maximized the use of time in the company.
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The Kanban method

The Kanban method It is one of the business improvement methodologies inherited from Kaizen., emerged at the end of the 20th century as a simplifying, efficient and fast alternative to traditional resource management models. Kanban proposes the reduction of “wasted” times and the simplification of the resource replacement chain, focusing on consumer demand, that is, on what is needed.

In this way, the business structure can be gradually improved, taking advantage of the available resources and achieving a high level of mutual commitment between workers and managers. It is a method of very high transparency and communication, which allows any individual to know the production cycle and the specific moment in which a certain process is locatedwhich minimizes wasted time and encourages horizontal dialogue.

More in: Kanban

The method “Just in time

The “Toyota method” or “Method just in time” (in English: “just in time”) was developed in the second half of the 20th century at the facilities of the Japanese company Toyota, largely thanks to the application of the Kaizen philosophy. This method consists of the elimination of stocks of raw materials and the need for their storageby remodeling production processes so that resources arrive as they are depleted, that is, “just in time.”

The inspiration model for this change was the supermarket replenishment system, in which merchandise is replenished as consumers take it away. The Kanban method, for example, is one of the so-called “just-in-time methods.”

Continue with: Organizational behavior


  • “Kaizen” on Wikipedia.
  • “Kaizen Method: the secrets of the Japanese system used by Toyota and Sony” in El cronista (Argentina).
  • “Kaizen method. What is it and how can you benefit from it?” in Anáhuac University Network (Mexico).
  • “Kaizen (manufacturing)” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.