“The essence of KAIZEN is simple and straightforward: KAIZEN means improvement. Moreover, KAIZEN means ongoing improvement involving everyone, including managers and workers. The KAIZEN philosophy assumes that our way of life – be it our working life, our social life, or our home life – deserves to be constantly improved.”
~ Masaaki Imai, introduction to the concept of KAIZEN
Kaizen ≠ Kaizen Event
Kaizen is perhaps the most widely misunderstood concept in the practice of Lean thinking today. Much of the confusion centers around the very important distinctions between the true spirit of kaizen (everyone in the organization engaged in making continual improvements to the way their work is done) and the kaizen event (informal, temporary teams performing discontinuous improvement planning for the larger organization).
If you have only experienced kaizen through the vehicle of the kaizen event, then you have likely failed to realize the power of what may be the single most powerful concept in the practice of Lean. But, fear not! Unlike many topics in the word of Lean, there is an extremely rich collection of kaizen books available that can help you to correctly orient your thinking and practice of kaizen.
Kaizen Books: The Best of the Best
While you cannot go wrong with any of the kaizen books in this section, the top row contains my three favorite kaizen books. Which is the right book for you depends on who you are. Gemba Kaizen by Masaaki Imai will give you a deep understanding and appreciation for the true spirit of kaizen as originated in Japan. Toyota Kaizen Methods by Isao Kato and Art Smalley will teach you a technical approach to kaizen that can be practiced to develop your kaizen thinking and skills. While Creating a Kaizen Culture by Jon Miller et al. will help you, as a leader, to create a culture of problem solving and continuous improvement in your organization. Also of note, Kaizen Express by John Shook is a great book if you are just beginning your Lean journey and are seeking an introduction to the concept.
Kaizen Books: Continuous Improvement
If kaizen means improvement, why give books that focus on continuous improvement a separate section? Two reasons. First, I’ve worked with organizations where the word kaizen (and the long list of other Lean terms borrowed from Japanese) carries a negative connotation; continuous improvement can be a more neutral term in these cases, and I’m sensitive to that. Second, each of the books above place a very unique lens on the practice of continuous improvement / kaizen, and I wanted a reason to call them out separately. Toyota Kata by Mike Rother develops a system of habits / routines for improvement that can be developed and refined over time. The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement by Dr. Liker details the often missing link between improvement and strategy. The e2 Continuous Improvement System by Bruce Hamilton and Pat Wardwell emphasizes the “everybody, everyday” mentality to engage all levels of the organization in the practice of improvement.
Kaizen Videos: Toast KaizenFor those of you who prefer video to kaizen books, I would be remiss if I did not point you to Toast Kaizen from Bruce Hamilton (a.k.a. the Old Lean Dude) of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP). This video was my very first exposure to Lean thinking and I credit Mr. Hamilton’s work with helping me to set off in the right direction. It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s extremely effective at teaching you the fundamental principles of Lean thinking and kaizen.
Kaizen Books: Kaizen Events
Kaizen events can be a powerful vehicle for change, but our current practices leave much to be desired in the way we drive improvement. Complicating matters, most of the references that are kaizen-event specific are also lacking or are even downright misleading. As a result, there are only two kaizen books specific to event planning and execution that I stand behind. For kaizen events in office, service or technical environments, go with The Kaizen Event Planner by Karen Martin. For all other applications, I recommend the Kaizen Event Fieldbook by Mark Hamel.
Kaizen Books: Kaizen for Life
The tagline at TheKaiZone is: Lean thinking and continuous improvement for business and for life. Over the last few years, the concept of kaizen has caught on outside of the Lean world in much more practical applications. As such, there are quite a few excellent kaizen books for how you can incorporate the principles of kaizen in your thinking to transform your everyday life.
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