The Continuous Improvement Philosophy

Posted on May 2, 2022

Kaizen is a common term in Japanese meaning “change for the better” or rather “continuous improvement”. This is a Japanese business philosophy that relates to those processes that continuously improve operations while involving all workers at every level.

This philosophy was founded on the belief that everything you can think of can actually be improved and that nothing is status quo.

The process involves ascertaining problems and opportunities, developing solutions and implementing them, and making a cycle through the process again for any emerging issues that were ineffectively addressed.

I also call it 'testing in production'.

Ten principles of Kaizen

Given that rolling out Kaizen requires you to tweak the right mindset all cross the company, below are 10 principles believed to address the Kaizen mindset considered core to this philosophy. These include:

  1. Let go of any assumptions.
  2. When it comes to solving problems, be proactive.
  3. There's no set template so don’t accept the status quo.
  4. Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change.
  5. Be on the lookout for solutions as you find mistakes.
  6. Create a culture and environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute.
  7. Don’t accept the obvious issue; instead, ask “why” five times to identify the root cause.
  8. Cull information and opinions from multiple people.
  9. Use creativity to find low-cost, bite-sized improvements.
  10. Never stop improving.

The first time you try changing something, whether a process, people’s perceptions or a corporate culture, it’s crucial that you ensure complete participation of your teams. Allow them to own and manage the process in order to drive improvements to be done.

Kaizen for continuous improvement

You can implement Kaizen using four condensed steps popularly referred to as PDCA/PDSA, the Deming or Shewhart cycles. The four-phased approach designed for continuous improvement of processes, products and services, entails systematically testing potential solutions, evaluating results, and rolling out those that seem to work.

The four phases are:

  • Plan: Identify and assess the issue or opportunity, create hypotheses about what the problems could be, and choose the one to test.
  • Do: Test the possible solution, basically on a small scale, before measuring the results.
  • Evaluate/Examine: Examine the result, measure its effectiveness, and determine whether the hypothesis is supported or not.
  • Act: If the solution was effective, implement it.

Kaizen is a philosophy designed to support continuous and incremental changes in processes that sustainably deliver a high level of efficiency. Kaizen can help at certain levels to improve your way of working by eliminating any form of “waste”. At the organizational level, this philosophy can form a powerful team-approach to harness recommendations and engagements of workers at every level.

Extensive participation can also help improve the morale and satisfaction of workers as it improves costs, production as well as other critical measures.

When you decide to invest in Kaizen for your workplace, you’ll be amazed at the vast impact small changes within your processes or organisation can make, and how the culture to make continuous improvements can sustainably thrive.