In 1986 Mr Masaaki Imai released a book with the title: Kaizen, the key to Japan’s Competitive Succes. With this Masaaki described the difference in the area of change management between the Western World and Japan. The difference? Kaizen.

Fundamental difference with traditional Western management

The fundamental difference lies in Change Management and the Management of Change. This difference is better described as the managing of gradual change (which is about Change management or Kaizen) and the managing of abrupt change (which is about the Management of Change). It is part of the culture of Japanese organisations to continuously initiate gradual changes. It is traditionally seen that Western managers carry out controlled abrupt changes. In both cases, we use the phrase Change Management. But in Japan, this term thus is understood differently.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen means “continuous improvement” and is an organised use of common sense to save on spending, to raise quality, to shorten delivery time and to increase customer satisfaction. Kaizen is a culture and not so much a plan of action or a model. There are indeed ways to foster a culture of Kaizen, such as Kaizen events and Gemba Kaizen. Of course, process improvement with Lean Six Sigma contributes to a Kaizen culture.

Kaizen event

A Kaizen event is a 2 – 5-day long event or meeting that starts with the problem and works through to the implementation of the solution. The Japanese term for a Kaizen event is “Kaikaku” (radical change). General Electric called a Kaizen event a Workout or “Blitz”.

The characteristics of a Kaizen event:

  • Event with a duration of 2 to 5 days
  • Proceeded by a detailed preparation.
  • Preceded by an implementation duration of a few weeks.
  • 100% committed resources during the event
  • Stops with implementation
  • Well prepared event  with a specific tight scope
  • An urgent problem is solved
  • The solution is not yet known

A Kaizen event is the Lean’s answer for a 3 – 5-month long project. In a project like this one, there is lots of squandering, such as overproduction, waiting time and defects.

To learn more about Kaizen Events and how to put them into practice, take a look at our online Kaizen course. This course is available on our digital learning platform and sister company ‘The Productivity Company’.

Gemba Kaizen

Gemba Kaizen means “the continuous improvement of the shopfloor”. The employees control the products and services for the customers. Important in this discussion is implementing improvements on the shopfloor and to detect practical problems. This management style is called ‘Kaizen Management’. Problems on the shopfloor are not management problems, and therefore, the solution cannot come from management. The executives are more suited to solve executive and strategic problems. Those spend the whole day on the shopfloor and have the most knowledge of it. The Western term for a Kaizen Management is Operational Excellence. This way of thinking is also about the continuous improvement of the operational state of affairs, wherein executives and shopfloor staff both have their own roles and responsibilities.

The Kaizen manager

The Kaizen manager spends time on the gemba (workplace) and observes what happens. The employees also observe and discuss these observations together. The Kaizen manager is responsible for the starting of the 5S initiatives and Standard Operating Procedures. He or she gives the employees time to implement the improvements in the workplace. The Kaizen manager has a coaching role throughout the process. If something goes wrong with regard to daily activities the Kaizen manager implements emergency measures and discusses the problem with the leading executives. The Kaizen manager discusses the organisation’s policy with the employees, creates a safe and secure working environment and removes any barriers that the employees are experiencing by improving their gemba. Employees who have learned to continuously improve themselves and the gemba are valuable to the organisation. With this knowledge and experience, they can be placed in other areas.

Kaizen in relation to Lean Six Sigma

Kaizen and Lean Six Sigma are both methodologies to increase customer satisfaction, to realise lasting improvement of company results and to continuously improve processes (the way we work). In both cases, this is about the reduction of waste and variation. Kaizen also focuses on the mindset of the management and the employees. Lean Six Sigma, on the other hand, is more focused on the financial results of the organisation. Kaizen works best if the entire organisation works together. Lean Six Sigma projects can be carried out by a particular part of the organisation.


What is a Kaizen event?

A period during which a group of managers and workers work together to solve a problem or improve a particular process within a company.

How long is a Kaizen event?

Typically the duration of a Kaizen event is 3 to 5 days.


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Courses where 'Kaizen' is part of the program

Want to know more about Kaizen? Visit the product pages of the following courses...