How do I do Kaizen?


Kaizen is most likely one of the most misused words in lean. There is a strong precedence in the lean community to call a “Kaizen Event” or “Kaizen Blitz” as “Kaizen”.

Kaizen just means incremental and continuous improvement towards the ideal state.

A Kaizen Event on the other hand, means generally a week long team-based rapid improvement activity. Thus, there is a definite start and a stop to Kaizen Events, making this almost an oxymoron since Kaizen implies a continuous and never stopping state. This post is about Kaizen and not Kaizen events.

A lot of people talk about the need for doing Kaizen. This post hopefully provides nuts and bolts on how to perform improvement activities. Please note that the first step for Kaizen is to nurture your employees so that they become aware of problems. This is a post for another day.

The following figure is taken from The Idea Book, edited by the Japan Human Relations Association (1980). The original title was “Kaizen Teian Handobukku” which roughly translates to “Kaizen through (Employee) Suggestions Handbook”. This figure shows how to approach improving your process. The right column is also known as the ECRS method. Going through these questions under the Description column and then following through the steps in the Countermeasure column is how one can improve a process.


Figure 1 : How to Improve a process?

  • Eliminate Unnecessary Tasks: The ultimate improvement is eliminating a task altogether. The What and Why questions help us with this.
  • Combine the Steps: What are the steps that need to be done in series? Are there any steps that can be done in parallel? The Where, When and Who questions help us with combining steps to eliminate waste. Additionally, combining also reduces the number of discrete steps in the process.
  • Rearrange the Steps: Sometimes changing the sequence also allows us to take away waste from the process. The Where, When and Who questions help us with this. Can we do the current step# 3 before Step# 1? Is there any logic to the current sequence of steps? Can we rearrange to create a better sequence.
  • Simplify: Is there any task that can be simplified to make the whole process faster and better? Does the operator spend a lot of time trying to sort things or fumble with things? Can we ultimately simplify all the steps?

Please note that the steps are carried out in the order described above.

The reader should also be aware that the ECRS process and the questions have roots in USA’s Training Within Industry (TWI) movement that got started near the era that led to World War II. TWI was an emergency service by US to help nation’s war contractors and essential production. There was a need to produce a lot in a short amount of time, and this required training operators to be better within a short amount of time. C R Dooley, the Director of TWI, stated the following; “TWI’s objectives were to help contractors to get out better war production faster, so that the war might be shortened, and to help industry to lower the cost of war materials.

The following figure is taken from the Problem Solving Manual from TWI. The following is also part of Job Methods program.


Figure 2: Steps 2 and 3 of Job Methods (TWI)

The following is a pocket card that was supplied as part of Job Methods program.


Figure 3: Job Methods Card

A keen observer of the Job Methods can find the scientific approach of PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) in it. Additionally, I would also like to bring attention to “Use the new method until a better way is developed” statement. This clearly shows that this is a continuous process.

I encourage the reader to study the Job Methods manual to get a better grasp. You can find a lot more about TWI here.

As a side note, Toyota implemented the TWI programs in the early 1950’s. Surprisingly the first of the TWI programs that was dropped was the Job Methods program. This was replaced by Shigeo Shingo’s P-courses that added the Industrial Engineering elements to process improvement activities. Taiichi Ohno wanted to add the importance of takt time, Standard WIP, flow, and pull style production to the idea of Kaizen. (Source: Art Smalley, Isao Kato)

Nugget from the Problem Solving Manual:

The Problem Solving Manual from TWI also identified “Make Ready” and “Put Away” as “movements of material without definite work accomplishment”.

The manual also identified these as the “greatest opportunities for improvement”. It is also noteworthy that “Less than 50% of the total time is usually consumed by the ‘DO’ part of the job.” Current thinking is that the true value added activities equate to less than 5% of a general process that is untouched by any improvement activities.


Figure 4: Value (Problem Solving Manual)

Final Words:

Maybe it is ironic that I am going to use the introductory words of C R Dooley, the then Director of TWI, from the Job Methods manual as my final words for this post. You can clearly see the undercurrents of Respect for People and Kaizen in his words.

Most of the men with whom you will work have had years of experience. They have latent ideas which, if properly developed, will increase production, reduce lost time, prevent waste of material, and increase the use of machinery and equipment. These men command your respect because of their knowledge.

Always keep on learning…

10 thoughts on “How do I do Kaizen?

  1. Dear Harish,
    Surprised to discover you so late!
    You are one of the rare species who truly understands Kaizen. I note with respect that you not only distinguish it so well vis-a-vis Kaizen Events/ Blitz; but you are able to link it back to TWI-JM born during the WW2 years & to ‘The Idea Book’!
    I wonder if you are also aware of ‘Kaizen Teian 1’ & ‘Kaizen Teian 2’ (Both edited by JHRA; both English versions published in 1992 by Productivity Press in USA).
    Hats off!
    Vinod Grover


      • Hi Vinod,
        I have The Improvement Book as well. They are all great books. I gained more insight about a problem should be viewed as the gap between current and ideal conditions from these books. I enjoy learning and reading very much.


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