Today better than yesterday, tomorrow better than today. This is the basis for beginning to explain to you what Kaizen is. After all, it is closely related to continuous improvement.

Growing companies, an increasingly demanding market, more and more hurried consumers. All of these factors together have contributed to the kaizen method being increasingly widespread within organizations in general, regardless of their size.

At this time, many people have come across this term for the first time, others even know a little about it, but do not really know what it means and where it came from.

Relax, all your doubts about Kaizen will be solved in this article, so come with me on this journey of knowledge!


What is Kaizen?


"In Japanese, Kaizen means continuous improvement. This word suggests an improvement that involves all managers and workers, also inferring the meaning of low expenses. The Kaizen philosophy suggests that our way of living, both in the professional and personal environment, should be focused on a constant effort to improve. "(Masaaki Imai - Lean Management Guru)

This is for me Kaizen's best definition because covers everything Kaizen addresses. But if you want more definitions, Kaizen is:


  • Teaching people to have resources;

  • A culture of continuous improvement;

  • Pursue a goal;

  • Knowledge transfer;

  • Know when to eliminate, reduce or change an activity.   


When I read about Kaizen for the first time, the first question I asked myself was: where did something so incredible come about? Who had this fantastic idea and why? If you're wondering this, keep reading to see that amazing ideas often spring from difficult times.   

Where did the concept of Kaizen come from?   


The emergence of this concept came from necessity! That's right, after World War II, Japan was devastated, without much resources, and needed to find a way to compete with major brands, such as Ford.

It was there that the Kaizen methodology of continuous improvement was born. Producing more using less would only be possible through improvement processes, so the Japanese companies started to work always thinking about the quality of the process.

The Kaizen system aimed at:


  • Obtaining profit for the company;

  • Participatory employee culture;

  • Improvements dictated by necessity;

  • Elimination of waste;

  • Provide customer satisfaction;   


It is important to point out to you that Kaizen was born within Lean Manufacturing, a complete methodology to make companies more and more efficient, giving the customer what he wants, when he wants it, and exactly how he wants it.

The most incredible thing about the Kaizen methodology is the possibility to be applied in any company, regardless of its size or number of employees. After all, in any organization it is possible to continually improve processes, is not it?

However, I make it clear that despite having this flexibility, adopting it in isolation is not the ideal case, and the results tend to be worse than could be achieved through a well-structured lean production system. Are you curious? Come on!   


Kaizen support systems


There are two essential systems that should be adopted if the goal is to improve the productivity of the organization. They are:


  • Just in time;

  • Total Productive Maintenance (TPM);


By adopting Kaizen in conjunction with these systems, and of course, with a quality management system, the results tend to improve exponentially!

Since our purpose here is to decipher the Kaizen, I will not speak about these two systems. If you want, just click on the links, because we have complete articles explaining each one of them.   


Kaizen's priorities   


The use of the Kaizen Methodology considers some aspects of the organization's productive process. Therefore, generally, its activities are carried out involving Workforce, Machine, Material and Method.

Kaizen's priority in the Toyota Production System is to act in the following sequence:



But how can we establish a priority order of actions that should be performed in each of these areas? This can be done through the following analysis:



The Kaizen focuses should be those activities that will have high impact on results with the least possible effort. Considering this and looking at the graph, you should start with those activities that are into the C1 class, right?

Let's then analyze each of the areas with Kaizen application.   


1 - Workforce


The application of the kaizen method considering the workforce is aimed at the elaboration of the (SOP) Standard Operating Procedure. It aims to create a routine to be executed based on the experiences of the workers, in order to avoid errors.

But why standardize? I'll answer you with another question. Have you ever thought how difficult it would be, or even impossible, to maintain quality in an automaker that works with 3 different shifts if there was no standard to follow?

That is why the standard must be obeyed and followed by all, because only in this way it is possible to reduce errors and observe unnecessary movements at work and thus eliminate waste.     



2 - Method   


Imagine a process that you already started using the Kaizen system and a process that started with a lot of waste, and then this method was applied. Which do you think will get results faster?

Surely the method that has begun using this philosophy will reach the top first. That is, Kaizen can be used both to improve existing processes and also to create lean projects, aiming at reducing costs and achieving great results in a much faster way.   



3 - Material   


In this area the Kaizen methodology is used to promote lean production, which is based on the pulled system. The parts must arrive as needed, in the quantity, at the right time and in the right place, which is the premise of the Just in Time production system.

Considering this philosophy, the idea of having stocks of products becomes outdated, since inventory is a product that has cost but has not made a profit. In addition, it takes up space that could be used for something productive.

In this way, lots of components must be manufactured in proportion to customer demand, with a strong appeal to the cash management.




4 - Machines   


At this stage, Kaizen is used to increase the availability of machines used in the process. After all, setup and maintenance time are wastes, according to Lean's value-added concept.

In this way, the stoppage goal is zero, it is sought to reduce to the maximum the setup time of the equipment and to improve the use of the machines.

This can be done through preventive maintenance, in order to prevent possible failures during the process, resulting in loss of the entire production line.



How to apply Kaizen?   


This methodology is applied through the so-called kaizen event. It is a continuous improvement program based on teamwork and utilization of the skills and knowledge of the staff involved.

In it, a team of 5 to 10 participants is formed, with the intention of implementing the work in one week, usually 5 working days. It literally fosters creativity before spending money, think of all the planning before going out doing it. 


Kaizen Workspace Selection   


I showed you before the list of priorities for Kaizen application in the Toyota Production System. Based on these priorities, you should choose the application area as follows:


  • Product lines with higher volume: it is easy to understand the reason for this choice, isn’t it? Higher the production volume of the chosen line, greater the impact of the Kaizen event on the final result.

  • Observe the production: Watching is the first point to create the continuous flow of a product on the production line.

  • Do the reverse path: do the reverse path, that is, instead of going from the raw material to the finished product, you must go from the finished product to the raw material.     



Now that you know the priorities, you know how to choose the area of action, but how to identify opportunities for improvement? This is what I will show you now ...


Planning and running the Kaizen event   


In general, Kaizen follows a standardized format, following the PDCA cycle for problem solving:



With all the acquired knowledge about what Kaizen is, where it came about this concept, what priorities, how to identify improvements and following these 4 steps to your application, you will be able to make a good event, obtain good results and establish a culture of continuous improvement within your organization.