Kaizen is often translated in the west as ongoing, continuous improvement. Some authors explain Japan's competitive success in the world market place as the result of the implementation of the Kaizen concept in Japanese corporations. In contrast to the usual emphasis on revolutionary, innovative change on an occasional basis, Kaizen looks for uninterrupted, ongoing incremental change. In other words, there is always room for improvement and continuously trying to become better.

Originally a Buddhist term, Kaizen comes from the words, "Renew the heart and make it good." Therefore, adaptation of the Kaizen concept also requires changes in "the heart of the business", corporate culture and structure, since Kaizen enables companies to translate the corporate vision in every aspect of a company's operational practice.

According to Imai (1986), an important advocate of Kaizen, "Kaizen means improvement. Moreover it means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life. When applied to the workplace Kaizen means continuing improvement involving everyone - managers and workers alike." Believers of this theory maintain that managers of production operations cannot stand still; continuous development and improvement is critical to long term success.

In practice, Kaizen can be implemented in corporations by improving every aspect of a business process in a step by step approach, while gradually developing employee skills through training education and increased involvement. The principle in Kaizen implementation are:

  1. human resources are the most important company asset,
  2. processes must evolve by gradual improvement rather than radical changes,
  3. improvement must be based on statistical/quantitative evaluation of process performance.

Support throughout the entire structure is necessary to become successful at developing a strong Kaizen approach. Management as well as workers need to believe in the Kaizen idea and strive toward obtaining the small goals in order to reach overall success. Therefore, all members of an organization need to be trained in a manner to support this idea structure. Resources, measurements, rewards, and incentives all need to be aligned to and working with the Kaizen structure of ideas.

It is the little things that add up to bigger things. SkyMark's PathMaker software gives you the tools which will help you in this process, gathering ideas, trying solutions, collecting data, and cycling back through again. Find out more about PathMaker...