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The essence of Kaizen and its role in operations

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The present article discusses the notion of kaizen and its role as the integral part of TQM philosophy. The major points of interests are the core of the kaizen philosophy and what can be learnt from it, implementation requirements and the importance of corporate culture as one of the most important determinant of successful integration of kaizen (, 2006).


According to Imai (1997) kaizen is the philosophy of incremental continuous improvement with involvement of everyone. At first glance everything is pretty clear and simple – what you need to do is to improve the processes around to make things more efficient. However the first barrier which appear on the way to improvement are few questions: what to improve, why to improve, who shall improve, where to improve, how far to improve, far how much it will cost. All these questions are answered by kaizen. This philosophy stresses the high importance of working environment as the actual place of improvement and the source of information regarding improvement areas (Imai calls is gemba). Everything what creates wastes of resources – time, emotions, financial resources, raw materials, unnecessary steps – might be improved (muda elimination – Imai (1997).


The real life advantages of this approach were observed by   Shigeo and Dillon (1989) with the case of Toyota Motor Corporation. The company sought to maximize the waste elimination and error-free production by introducing real time alert system on the operations level. This system allowed ground floor employees to stop the production line if problems occurred (, 2006).


The major message of Imai about kaizen is that continuous improvements cost nothing but might significantly improve the overall process. However, prior to rushing to improving found drawbacks an individual shall evaluate the consequences of change as well as the degree of its urgency and its usefulness for the work process.


One of the main questions which arise is why various firms have not yet benefited from integrating kaizen. In practice, certain organisations restrain the capability of employees to amend the set operational procedures. The set organisational culture prevents ground floor employees from involvement in decision making what becomes one of the major obstacles. As the result people do not feel being involved or important and are not ready to seek the improvements. As the result the principle of kaizen – involving everyone can not be matched. 


Various analysts warn against blind use of kaizen as the blueprint for an organisation to become competitive and successful. Thus, Peters (1997) and Hammer & Stanton (1996) claim that under certain conditions continuous improvement is useless, unless the whole process is radically changed. As Hammer & Stanton (1996) put it “unless we change the outdated rules and the fundamental assumptions that underline operations, we are merely rearranging the deck chair on the Titanic”




Hammer M. & Stanton S. (1996) The reengineering revolution, Handbook. London: Hammersmith.


Imai M. (1997) Gemba Kaizen : A Commonsense Low-cost Approach to Management, New York: McGraw-Hill Professional


Papers For You (2006) "C/OM/28. What are the characteristics of total quality management?", Available from [22/06/2006]


Papers For You (2006) "S/OM/23. Total Quality Management", Available from [21/06/2006]



Peters T. J. (1997) The circle of innovation: you can't shrink your way to greatness, London: Hodder & Stoughton


Shigeo S. and Dillon A. P. (1989) A Study of the Toyota Production System from an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint -   Norwalk, Conn: Productivity Press

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