The Kaizen Method: A Practical Guide to Continuous Improvement

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By David Tomas, on 3 July 2024

The Kaizen method is a business strategy that aims to achieve significant long-term improvements by perfecting small tasks or implementing minor changes in daily operations. It focuses more on the gradual enhancement of processes rather than constantly striving for immediate results. This method also holds the belief that, even if things are going well, there is always something that can be improved.

Many companies have successfully increased team productivity, become more competitive, optimized processes, reduced inefficiencies, and better achieved their goals using the Kaizen method. However, for this method to truly work, it should not be applied in isolation within specific teams; it needs to be integrated into the organizational culture.

Are you interested in applying this work strategy to your business? The Kaizen method comprises a total of 10 principles and various techniques. This article goes over these principles and techniques and provides examples of major organizations that have implemented it for a long time, some of which might surprise you. This work strategy has become a benchmark for international companies in the field of marketing, among many others.

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The Kaizen Method

The Origin of the Kaizen Method

The origin of the Kaizen method can be traced back to the United States in the 1940s during World War II, when engineer William E. Deming wanted to analyze companies' productivity levels. However, the Kaizen method gained popularity in Japan in the 1950s after World War II, when the country had lost a significant portion of its industry.

To boost productivity again, the Japanese government and manufacturers sought help from American consultants to find a solution. They turned to engineers Joseph Juran and William E. Deming, who introduced the concept of continuous improvement to Japanese companies and the principles of quality control.

This allowed Japanese companies to eliminate any type of waste of time, including unnecessary process repetitions, completely changing their way of working.

Thus, the Kaizen method significantly helped Japan economically recover after the war and remains a fundamental pillar for many Japanese companies in achieving operational excellence.

In fact, the word "Kaizen" is composed of the Japanese words “kai” (change) and “zen” (better), which translates to "change for the better."

The 10 Principles of the Kaizen Method

The first step in applying the Kaizen method in a company is to base different actions on its 10 principles.

But remember, you will not notice instant or rapid changes, as the Kaizen methodology involves gradual and long-term improvements, which is the best way to achieve lasting changes.

  1. Embrace new ideas, as doing the same thing always brings the same results.

  2. Constant improvement, since things can always be done better. There is no end to improvement in this methodology.

  3. Always seek solutions and stop thinking about the reasons that prevent you from doing something.

  4. Ask for help when you don’t know how to do something on your own.

  5. Do not justify the present with past actions; analyze them only to extract lessons.

  6. Be curious and question why things are the way they are.

  7. Allow mistakes, but always seek a solution.

  8. Learn from challenges, problems, and difficulties presented daily.

  9. Done is better than perfect. Avoid inaction due to perfectionism, as things cannot be perfect on the first try. It’s better to do something well and take less time than to try to do it perfectly while taking twice as long.

  10. Be resourceful and do your best with the available resources; don’t wait to be better equipped to start doing things.

The Purpose of the Kaizen Method

The Kaizen method serves to improve both a company’s internal processes and team satisfaction, as well as enhance customer relationships. Specifically, its various utilities include:

  • Boosting team motivation: By eliminating superfluous tasks and focusing only on value-added actions, morale, happiness, self-esteem, and belonging within the organization increase.
  • Increasing competitiveness: Efficient work and committed teams help reduce costs and improve product or service quality.
  • Reducing the risk of changes: Small, gradual changes can be detected in time if they don’t work and be removed.
  • Eliminating the fear of change: Gradual implementations help teams adapt better to change, reducing fear, which is crucial in a company.
  • Increasing productivity: The ultimate goal of the Kaizen strategy is to improve processes and reduce task execution time.

How to Apply the Kaizen Method in Your Company

The Kaizen strategy can be applied to all teams within a company and in any type of organization, although it works best in medium or large corporations with a more structured way of working. Here are the steps to implement this methodology in your company:

  • Create a team: Choose a member from each area where you want to implement the method. You can also select one person to coordinate the entire process.

  • Identify needs: The team should analyze what needs improvement in each area, always keeping the overall improvement of the company in mind. Additionally, each member should communicate the changes to be implemented to their team.

  • Establish an action plan: Indicate how to achieve these changes based on the methodology principles and the 5S of the Kaizen Method:

    • Seiri: Differentiate between what is useful and useless, discarding the latter.

    • Seiton: Prioritize the useful items.
    • Seiso: Maintain cleanliness and order in the workplace.
    • Seiketzu: Maintain personal cleanliness and order.
    • Shitsuke: Promote self-discipline.
  • Remember, one of the characteristics of the Kaizen methodology is that changes should be progressive and gradual.
  • Implement and record: Put the action plan into practice with each team as indicated, but remember to monitor progress.
  • Review results: After some time, analyze whether the plan has been successful by examining the results. If not, another plan or improvements can be implemented. If successful, continue on that path.

5 Companies That Have Applied the Kaizen Method


Toyota had to be first on this list because it was one of the first to implement the Kaizen methodology, becoming the benchmark for continuous improvement.

With the Kaizen methodology, Toyota has managed to reduce waste, increase production efficiency, improve customer experience, and optimize operations.


The world’s largest marketplace practices the Kaizen methodology with the goal of building an employee-centric approach where workers are the focus.

By implementing the Kaizen methodology, Amazon has reduced errors, improved workplace safety, and standardized processes, and made an effort to listen to its team professionals.


Intel aimed to improve its manufacturing productivity. Using the Kaizen methodology, it became a more profitable company and achieved higher product quality.

Intel didn’t stop there; it also applied the Kaizen methodology to its digital marketing strategy, boosting its social media and content marketing efforts. The Kaizen methodology can be implemented across all company areas.


Philips has focused on applying the Kaizen methodology to its marketing and advertising strategy. By making gradual adjustments, it has achieved significant results, such as better audience segmentation and optimized ad campaign performance.

Mayo Clinic

This non-profit organization focused on clinical practice, research, and medical education achieved better medical inventory control, optimized patient registration, and reduced wait times through the Kaizen methodology.

Mayo Clinic exemplifies how the Kaizen method can be applied to any sector, extending beyond the industry.

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David Tomas