What are Kaizen, Lean, Continuous Improvement, and the Toyota Production System?
Kaizen, a Japanese term most simply defined as ‘making change for the better” gave way in North America to the English translation “continuous improvement”.
Kaizen for us refers to the operational principles driving the work practices made known by the Toyota Motor Company, referred to as the Toyota Production System (TPS). Toyota’s key developer, Taiichi Ohno, and those who studied and worked with him (e.g. Shigeo Shingo) brought attention to the importance of Kaizen technologies & methods, which has evolved into a major industry unto itself in the last 20 years. These principles and tools define how to identify muda or waste in all processes within the company, which are non-value added, adding cost but no value to the company’s product or services, and ways to eliminate them.
Lean Manufacturing, a term made popular by university researchers James Womack & Daniel Jones (1996 Lean Thinking, Simon & Shuster) redefines and supports this waste identification and elimination management practice based upon the Toyota Production System.
While many believe kaizen only addresses small fast improvements, in the larger sense, Kaizen is the umbrella for all improvement activities, and a good kaizen culture includes 3 types of improvement disciplines; innovation, standardization/maintenance, and continuous improvement.