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What is Kaizen (continuous improvement)?

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What is Kaizen (continuous improvement)?

The following article is part of the self-preparation for the modern BVOP® Scrum Master Certification program.

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

  1. The Kaizen cycle
  2. Kaizen and the 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement

Kaizen includes all aspects of organizations and all their participants. This philosophy aims to eliminate waste and deliver even more high-quality practices.

Empirically, Kaizen involves performing small experiments and then monitoring the results and making appropriate adjustments. Kaizen proposes doing this all the time when it is applicable.

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". This is a form of root cause analysis in which the user asks a series of five "why" questions in the event of failure, where each follow-up question is based on the previously given answer.

There are usually several reasons for one root cause of failure, and they can be identified. The five whys 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 whys can reveal a problem long before the fifth one is asked.

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," asked 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’d 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 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, hearts, and hands in the work.

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 (a device for cutting or moulding metal into a particular shape) 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 which 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. Training people to use innovative technology so they can adapt to it, providing the latest technologies and making them useful in real environments.

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

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

The following issues related to chapter "Kaizen" are included in the certification exam. The sequence of questions is presented in the table.
The data is current as of May 15, 2024, 4:02 am

ID Issue Time Category
0 The Kaizen cycle 60 sec SM, PO
1 Kaizen and the 20 Keys to Workplace Improvement 60 sec SM, PO

Comments from the BVOP™ community on "Kaizen"


Kaizen is a lean methodology approach to production and development in manufacturing. It aims to eliminate waste and improve practices through small experiments and adjustments. This philosophy applies to all aspects of organizations and their participants.

The Kaizen cycle is a process of continuous improvement that involves four stages: Plan, Do, Check, and Act. It is also known as the PDCA cycle. The Five Whys is a technique used with PDCA to identify the root cause of the failure by asking a series of five "why" questions. This method can be used in personal or work relations, as well as in technical and production matters. The five whys can reveal a problem before the fifth question is asked.

Professor Iwao Kobayashi's book "20 Keys to Workplace Improvement" identified 20 areas for improvement, including cleanliness, teamwork, reduced inventory, and continuous improvement. Other keys include zero monitoring, maintenance, defect management, waste reduction, employee training, and conservation. The framework aims to create a synchronized system where all parts work together for sustainable change.

Comments on “What is Kaizen (continuous improvement)?”

  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?
  2. Leon Weber

    Only after a manager enters the shoes of the people who do the important daily work can he approach with understanding. Then the manager can show his determination for continuous improvement.

    Productivity can be related to available tools and technologies, for example. But the difficulties can be unlimited. From ineffective colleagues to something small that, however, interferes with work.

    Achieving a common language and values ​​always takes a long time. This can be a slow and difficult transition. The Scrum Master role can play a major role by showing perseverance in imposing one's views. Patience is always needed. However, the top management of an organization can directly influence these transition periods.. Try to improve the views of senior management. Only then you can succeed with your teams and activities.

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