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Kaizen – Continuous Improvement The Japanese Way


Interested in long term improvement? Want to know sure fire way to improve over time? Sceptic? Want some evidence?

Kaizen is what Japanese apply when they want to improve and become more productive.

kaizen by lenaibojcdruz.

by lenaibojcdruz

Kaizen (??, Japanese for "improvement") is a Japanese philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement throughout all aspects of life.

5 strategies

There are only few simple principles for Kaizen implementation. They are referred as 5S’s. This is how Masaaki Imai outlines it in his book Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management:

  1. Sort – Separate everything unnecessary and get rid of it. Put a red tag on unnecessary items (for example, unused machines), then remove them.
  2. Straighten – Put key items in order so they can be found readily. Straighten logically, so items can be located with a minimum of wasted effort.
  3. Scrub – Tools and workplaces should be clean. Dirt and foreign particles can cause machinery to malfunction.
  4. Systematize – Make a schedule for cleaning and for checking that all is in order. This ensures that housekeeping is maintained constantly.
  5. Standardize – Make the preceding steps part of a regular process.

Does it work?

Yeah! Does it really work? Let’s see.

  • Toyota. This company is kind of success, right? Here is what they do:

The Toyota Production System is known for kaizen, where all line personnel are expected to stop their moving production line in case of any abnormality and, along with their supervisor, suggest an improvement to resolve the abnormality which may initiate a kaizen.

  • Myself. I think I am success. I am no millionaire. I am regular corporate worker. Then why I count myself for successful one? I like John Wooden’s definition for success and that is why I feel I am successful:

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable"  – John Wooden.

What Kaizen does have to do with me and my success? Let’s see:

  1. Sort – Separate everything unnecessary and get rid of it. I practice Covey’s Important/Urgent quadrant to get rid of noise.
  2. Straighten – Put key items in order so they can be found readily. I am a big fan of pipeline processing.
  3. Scrub – Tools and workplaces should be clean. I am on tools diet. I just love utilizing familiar tools for different tasks, here are few examples:
    1. Effective Time Management With Vista Sidebar
    2. On Writing – John Lennon, Gerald M. Weinberg, Me, You, And Outlook 2007
    3. Security .Net Code Inspection Using Outlook 2007
  4. Systematize – Make a schedule for cleaning and for checking that all is in order. I am a big fan of checklists. Here is the whole blueprint.
  5. Standardize – Make the preceding steps part of a regular process. How about the whole lifecycle?

It seems I’ve been doing Kaizen all that time unconsciously. That is fine. I am only happy it worked great for me, only now I am even more confident in continuing doing it – continuous improvement, Kaizen.

Self Test

  1. Do you separate important from noise? What’s your technique?
  2. Are you processing your work in ordered manner? How do you order your work items?
  3. Are you over-tooled, over-engineered? Do you have the tools to make your job done? Do you have more tools? Do you really need them?
  4. Do you check yourself periodically? Daily, weekly, monthly, annually?
  5. Do you have lifecycle plan of your work? Do you have lifecycle plan of your life? No? Then how do you know you are on track?
26 July 2008


  • Vered said:

    I think I’ve been practicing these principles – or most of them – too, subconsciously. But it’s nice to have a name for them!

  • Al at 7P said:

    Toyota is an excellent example. I’ve read about their history and their dedication to doing good work. There’s a reason why they recently became the top selling car company in the world.

  • Shilpan | successsoul.com said:

    Alik –

    I know you are a success. It shows in everything you do — including your compassionate nature to a new blogger like myself, your tendency to help others(selflessness) and, above all, your dedication to your family. Financial or physical well being is a nice state to achieve but success has larger meaning to all of us and we shall always be mindful about that. You are proving this truth everyday my friend.


  • Brian said:

    I worked at safeway in the meat department. These signs are all over the walls in all employee-only areas. I didn’t know they were anything other than some generic Safeway motto.

  • alik levin (author) said:

    “practicing” is my favorite! ;)

    My next book to read is “The Toyota Way”. I really want to learn from their success.

    Thanks for such kind words!

    Now you know the meaning of the signs ;). To be honest I would not have a clue until I read about it in Wikipedia and then ran some search on flickr. Never mind. Signs are less important than the meaning. It is great that Safeway has Kaizen as their motto.

  • Marelisa said:

    Hi Alik: I was just thinking of the different definitions of success that exist and then I come across your post and see the John Wooden quote. I love the concept of kaizen and how you’ve developed it here. Currently I’m in the process of decluttering, which I think is in line with the kaizen philosophy!

  • alik levin (author) said:

    Happy it resonated w/you!
    Decluttering means for me not only getting rid of tangible things i do not need. It also means for me stop doing stuff i do need to do. How i prioritize? Please review Covey’s method here:


  • Program Yourself For Extremely Fast Performance — Practice This said:

    [...] call it GTD, some call it Kaizen, some just call it discipline. Call it what ever you like. If you want to perform extremely fast [...]

  • Kaizen Parents - GTD Kids — Practice This said:

    [...] seem to solve this one – I apply the same technique that gets me results, Kaizen’s “Straighten” rule. Buy yourself a white board, hang it on the door and write checklists for your kids. It’s a [...]

  • bambang indarto said:

    I think that kaizen is one way for companies to survive and thrive in any situation, especially kaizen means change for the better, as a coach Kaizen tools, 7tools & PDCA 8 steeps. Kaizen is the science that will benefit all employees from lower levels to level up. and make the corporate culture of kaizen

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