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What is Kaizen?

I was initially amazed, not any more. On visits to organisations to hear the familiar lament "Nothing ever happens without me. Must I do everything myself?"

The manager / owner takes some action supposedly to get things done. Soon thereafter the situation lapses into the earlier condition. This is like sitting on a see-saw. We go up, only to come down again. It is like taking three steps forward and two and a half steps back most of the time. This style of functioning saps the strength and eventually the spirit of the organisation. At best the organisation will survive and plod along and in many cases just goes out of business.

We were no different until we adopted a philosophy called KAIZEN with great success.
'Kai' in Japanese means small 'Zen' means change. Thus Kaizen means 'Small Changes.' It is a kind of discipline, of continuous improvement by the introduction of small changes all the time.
Adopting Kaizen is not a magic wand that will suddenly propel your organisation into World Class league. It’s a philosophy that is employed in several ways, and the one used by many great companies mainly in Japan. It is one of the main reasons that, companies like Toyota, Sony, Canon, Toshiba etc made Japan a global industrial and economic leader. A Japanese product is automatically deemed to be good because it is reliable and consistent.

Life is defined by flow and change. If an organisation is not changing or flowing, then one could assume it’s dying. That demise comes slowly or even in decades, is not the point. The issue is that instead of being healthy, vibrant and living, they are decaying, and on the path to extinction. A living organisation will adapt, improvise and continuously improve so as to survive.

If you believe, that people are your greatest asset and can take your organisation to great heights, then Kaizen maybe for you. However if you believe that employees are nothing but trouble makers, dishonest and shirk responsibility, you can stop reading this article.

Kaizen works to improve wellness in organisations. It cannot cure chronic sickness. It works best for people and organisations if their products or service have demand in the market place, and the organisation is relatively healthy.
If you are in the throes of a major crisis, then Kaizen may not be the answer for you. Then some other form of radical action should be considered.
Also Kaizen is not a solution for innovation or technology deficiencies.

The basic starting point in Kaizen is that all basic work is well thought out, and planned. Routine work is handled in a routine manner. All work is defined by way of standards. A standard could be defined as, a guideline that helps people to do their jobs effectively.

Do you have to repeat and enforce without much success the same instructions time and again? Do you find the same type of urgent or even crisis issues surfacing repeatedly? Then please read on.

In most organisations, people have at best, a vague idea of what they are responsible for and how they are to discharge their responsibilities. They learn from day to day mistakes, and by treading the fine line between responsibility and fear. Too much initiative and one can be in trouble and too little and the person could be branded as irresponsible. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don't!

Once things are standardised, it brings in a form of structure and consistency to work. People sometimes mistakenly believe that this leads to rigidity. An organisation has to function in a particular and consistent manner for executing routine tasks, irrespective of the individual involved. Only stable standards and activities can be improved. Improvement in a chaotic environment is difficult if not impossible.

The power of Kaizen is to continuously change and improve the standard, stabilise it and then make it a new improved standard. Unlike other approaches it employs the intelligence, knowledge and commitment of each individual within the organisation, to achieve excellence in all activities. Credible respect for individuals by management, as demonstrated by receptivity to ideas from all levels within the workforce is a precondition to successfully implementing Kaizen.

Kaizen sets then stabilises and finally improves standards. Once standards are visible, measurable and can be monitored or rendered visible, they improve constantly. Initiatives for change in standards are discussed, at the lowest possible level where they are applicable. Once verified by their next superior the revised standard is tested or demonstrated in controlled conditions. Once the new improved standard is validated it is implemented organisation wide. Now the new standards are followed.

Kaizen is slow and takes time, but its effects are almost impossible to reverse. Kaizen is not suitable for organisations that adopt 'Rambo', or firing from the hip style of management, for their day to day work.

When things are stable and constant only then can they be improved. Many top managers are managing day to day activities and responding to crisis’s that they have no time to improve and lead. In an ever increasing and competitive world if an organisation is not improving then it can be said to be in decline.

Kaizen starts with and encompasses;
• Setting standards
• Maintaining standards
• Improving standards

Kaizen includes amongst other practices the following;
• Quality Improvement
• Productivity Improvement
• JIT - Just In Time
• ‘Kanban’ and pull system
• TQM - Total quality management
• TQC - Total Quality Control
• SGA - Small Group Activity
• Suggestion schemes
• QC - Quality Circles
• TPM - Total Productive maintenance

Discipline the bane of us Indians and our Achilles heel. This could explain why a Japanese worker drawing wages twenty times of an Indian worker can still competitively produce a product that is much sought after, with a relatively small price premium to customers

Typical results vary from 10% to 70% improvement in all tangible areas relating to quality, costs, productivity and time.
Dramatic improvements are also seen in customer satisfaction, vendor satisfaction and employee morale.


  1. The Japanese can be likened to the workaholic persistent buzzer doing the rounds with that singular blinkered focus on the job at hand - collecting honey, yes our good friend the bee. Kaizen comes but naturally to the bee, for it is nature's principles at work - Small changes.

    From the above line up that Kaizen encompasses and practices, I see but one word popping out out be it quality, standards, improvement, management or whatever but eventually spells QUALITY. And quality cannot be abounding. There is a limit set. That's why bees rally around a new queen and move on to a new hive and the Japanese have been very successful from their little batch-of-hives like nation-of-islands. Although swarming around, I'm sure the Japanese population in the world is none too high.

    And as for us Indians, population is our bane. We don't see eye to eye, for we only see eye to crotch. Even the Chinese have got a hold of this and are on the quality path and probably with the right leaders make pole position someday.

    So, friends, Kaizen is a nature built in evolutionary mantra that only favors the survivor.

  2. Aubrey Mullerworth Said. Great article and useful to know for lots that are in the trenches of large organisations that have good ideas but are clueless as to how to move forward.
    I have used many of the technics sited at The Metropolitan, and have found it works.
    Patience is a must as change comes but very slowly. I equate the process to what it might be to turn an aircraft carrier around 360 degrees.

  3. Vijay Nanda said.

    And if we apply the same to our personal life ?
    Think about it :-)

  4. Jimmy Kapadia said;


  5. Jimmy Kapadia said;

    Interesting stuff. I guess this applies to large organisations where labour is paid high and job seekers are standing in line waiting for someone inside to lose their job for whatever reason the management has found them to be incompetent.

    This can be practiced where the employee is under constant threat of losing his high paying job if his performance is considered substandard by the management. This country however is blessed by a skilled & semi-skilled workforce who are unemployed and the HR department will not find it difficult to replace.

    But what is the scenario in Medium & Small companies ?
    The need of the hour is to give management lessons to employers of small & medium enterprises where the employees are poorly paid and thus few aspirants are available as replacements if the current employee is to be fired. Especially in critical departments of the organisation if the employee has to be fired and a suitable replacement is not found soon enough, the business takes a fall.

    What does an employer do ?

    Let me know.

  6. Harbans Khanduja said,


    Your emails are not only read, but re-read at least three times or more, and forwarded to good friends and thereafter discussed.

    I for one learn a lot from them and frankly have said prays many a times to the gods to shower unto you Health, Wealth and Hapiness. Thank you again for sharing your experiences with us.

    Please keep it up and do have a very nice day.



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