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Kaizen, or continuous improvement, is a key idea of lean methodology and an approach to production and development in the manufacturing sector.

Kaizen includes all aspects of organizations and all their participants. This philosophy aims to eliminate waste and deliver more good practice.

Empirically, Kaizen involves performing small experiments and then monitoring the results and making appropriate adjustments. Kaizen proposes to do this all the time, concerning everything that is done.

The Kaizen cycle

The Kaizen cycle can be defined as: "Plan → Do → Check → Act". This is also known as the Shewhart or PDCA cycle.

Another technique used in conjunction with the PDCA is the "Five Whys", which is a form of root cause analysis in which the user asks a series of five "why" questions in the event of failure, based on each follow-up question from the previous.

There are usually a number of reasons for one root cause, and they can be identified. The five Why can be used as a foundational tool in personal or work relations, as well as in technical and production matters.

One important point to note is that the Five Why can reveal a problem long before you ask the question "Why" for the fifth time.

Here are a few examples:


"System users don't use the option to export files, which looks like a serious anomaly."

"Why" first asked:

We noticed that the export module has low user traffic.

"Why" set for the second time:

We conducted a test and found that the file export module is not easily visible in the user interface.

Asking the question "Why" in this case identified the problem as early as the second question.

Here is another example:


"My team members are avoiding me and not communicating with me as much as I like."

Why First Time?

"I guess they don't like me."

Why the Second Time?

"They may be scared of me."

Why the Third Time?

"I once told them that if they delayed the project, I would report them to the management and fire them."

A clear solution is already being observed.

Kaizen and the 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement

In the 1990s, Professor Iwao Kobayashi published his book 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement and created a practical framework for improvement called 20 Keys. At that time, 20 areas were identified that needed to be improved to achieve a complete and sustainable change.

These are:

1. Clean and tidy up. Everywhere and all the time.

2. Management style with engagement and participation. Work with all people to engage their minds and hearts, both in work and in their hands.

3. Teamwork. Focus on collaboration to get everyone involved in enthusiastic improvements.

4. Reduced inventory and lead time. Dealing with overproduction and reducing costs and time.

5. Changeover reduction. Reducing the time for changing dies and machines to achieve a more flexible operation.

Logically, in processes that do not involve machines and tools, you can focus on reducing the technological time for your operations.

6. Continuous improvement of the workplace. Generating growth as a way of life, continually improving work, and better jobs.

7. Zero monitoring. Build systems that avoid the need for human control on an ongoing basis. Instead, create a team that works to maintain and improve your technology.

8. Creating interconnected cells where flow and pull are the order of the day.

We can follow this idea by understanding that related processes throughout production must follow an order and not be hindered. Results throughout the day and at the end of the day are essential.

9. Maintenance. Maintenance of machines by people who work with them, not by external specialists. This allows for constant adjustment and minimal downtime.

Interpret this as the idea that you have to maintain your systems and products yourself, not an outside company. You are most familiar with your products and technology.

10. Disciplined, rhythmic work. Synchronized systems where all parts work together.

11. Defects. Defect management, including defective parts and connections.

Monitor, control, and manage your defects. Look for reasons and strive to avoid them.

12. Supplier partnerships. Working with suppliers that makes them part of an ever-improving chain instead of struggling with them.

13. Waste. Constantly identifying and eliminating things that either don't add value or even destroy it.

These can be processes, ways of working, even roles or positions. Anything that doesn't help you should be removed from your job.

14. Employee support and training. Training employees to work at a higher level so that they can increase the value they add to the work.

15. Cross-Functioning. Employees work with colleagues from different departments and even change departments to gain experience in other areas.

16. Scheduling. Operation times are planned to create a flow of high quality and affordable products.

17. Efficiency. Balancing financial problems with other areas that indirectly affect costs.

18. Technology. Using and training more sophisticated technologies and adapting teams to them.

19. Conservation. Saving resources to avoid waste for both the company and the community and the environment.

20. Site technology and Concurrent Engineering. Understanding and using methods such as concurrent engineering and Taguchi methods.

What is Kaizen (continuous improvement)?
Comments of our guests
  1. John Carry
    As far as I understand the two disciplines and practices, Kaizen and Scrum have little in common. However, I have some pretty satisfactory level of knowledge in Scrum, and it seems to me that Kaizen principles are not included in Scrum. If you can do some interweaving, how would you put Kaizen ideology into real Scrum practices?

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