The Ten Basic Kaizen principles

"Continuous Improvement of common tasks produces an uncommon organization!"
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After World War II, business leaders in Japan developed a strategy to become more competitive and profitable. Since then, “Kaizen” (change for the better) is widely practiced in businesses around the world. It is commonly referred to as “Continuous Improvement.”

Kaizen is a deeply held belief that everyday managers and staff can turn problems into opportunities, and find ways to become better for customers, employees, vendors and stakeholders. It is a compelling desire to achieve operational excellence.

Here are the ten basic Kaizen principles.

1. Throw out all your old fixed ideas on how to do things

For about three centuries the Western economy has been dominated by jobs that require fixed, repetitive actions. A large number of these jobs, if not all of them, are now vanishing.

The open mind-state that’s natural to all of us enables us to spot new opportunities when old ones disappear and create innovative solutions to unprecedented problems.


2. No blame - treat others as you want to be treated

Focus on the problem itself, not who caused it.

A ‘blame culture’ is common in all different kinds of work places, and can lead to a lack of productivity, wasted time, and hard feelings being created. There are many different reasons that can lead to the development of a blame culture, but all of them are reversible with the use of proper management techniques and some logical thinking.
Frequent arguments about "responsibilities", emails sent to the manager critisizing co-workers and mistakes blamed on a specific person, are common signes of blame culture.

  • A blame culture can lead to a lack of productivity, wasted time, and hard feelings being created.
  • A blame culture also restricts creativity because employees are afraid to make mistakes.
  • A manager needs to be able to effectively change this type of culture to one that promotes teamwork and creativity.
  • Share your mission with the team and clearly define the role each person plays in achieving the overall objective.
  • Use effective communication techniques which consider other perspectives and check assumptions before reacting.


3. Think positive –don’t say can’t

“See the positive side, the potential, and make an effort.” ~Dalai Lama

Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.


4. Don't wait for perfection. 50% improvement now is fine

The World’s Most Successful People Didn’t Wait for Perfection (and Neither Should You).

Kaizen is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.


5. Correct mistakes as soon as they are found

Do we want people to make mistakes? The answer to this question is generally “Yes”, because people recognise that this is how we learn and discover new ways of doing things.

If one of your people were to come to an appraisal and say “I’ve made no mistakes in the last year”, would you be impressed? I doubt it. It is more likely that you would wonder why they hadn’t tried more new stuff.

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”, Albert Einstein

Many companies recognise the need to positively celebrate mistakes, to encourage more innovation.


6. Don’t substitute money for thinking - Creativity before Capital

In the “kaizen” mindset, there’s a great value placed on using “creativity over capital” or “putting your mind before your wallet.” There’s usually more than one way to solve a problem and the most expensive way isn’t always the best way.


7. Keep asking why until you get to the root cause

When confronted with a problem, have you ever stopped and asked why five times? It is difficult to do even though it sounds easy. For example, suppose a machine stopped functioning:

  • 1. Why did the machine stop? (There was an overload and the fuse blew.)
  • 2. Why was there an overload? (The bearing was not sufficiently lubricated.)
  • 3. Why was it not lubricated sufficiently? (The lubrication pump was not pumping sufficiently.)
  • 4. Why was it not pumping sufficiently? (The shaft of the pump was worn and rattling.)
  • 5. Why was the shaft worn out? (There was no strainer attached and metal scrap got in.)
Repeating "why" five times, like this, can help uncover the root problem and correct it. If this procedure were not carried through, one might simply replace the fuse or the pump shaft. In that case, the problem would recur within a few months. The Toyota production system has been built on the practice and evolution of this scientific approach. By asking and answering "why" five times, we can get to the real cause of the problem, which is often hidden behind more obvious symptoms.


8. Better the wisdom of 5 people that the expertise of 1

“Two heads are better than one.” We’ve all heard the old adage encouraging teamwork, but what does working together really do for you? Here are six ways that teamwork benefits you in the workplace.
1. Fosters Creativity and Learning

2. Blends Complementary Strengths

3. Builds Trust

4. Teaches Conflict Resolution Skills

5. Promotes a Wider Sense of Ownership

6. Encourages Healthy Risk-Taking


9. Base decisions on data not opinions

let’s suppose that your sales manager reports “our customers are becoming increasingly upset with our pricing relative to our competitors’. I think we need to reduce our prices to compete.” Fact? No, it is an opinion. How many customers? Over what period? What did they actually say? How do our prices compare? What changes in pricing did our competitors make? When?


10. Improvement is not made from a conference room!

If you are knowledgeable about the work and have a good understanding of how the work works, then you will be able to see where you can improve processes by going to the gemba. It is not about seeing how fast the hands of staff are moving, but it is about seeing the process and removing wasteful tasks.


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