The 35-year Journey of Kaizen Institute

The 35-year Journey of Kaizen Institute

The visionary Masaaki Imai founded Kaizen Institute 35 years ago in Switzerland which led to the publication of his best-selling book “KAIZEN™: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success” (McGraw Hill 1986). Without a doubt, future historians will mark 1985 as one of the turning points in the progression of quality, productivity, and labor relations management. Indeed, we believe that KAIZEN™, along with the dawn of information technology and the globalization of supply chains and services, are the top three economic innovations of the 20th century. These have made a lasting positive impact on the world economy, continuing into the 21st century.

In 1985 very few people knew what KAIZEN™ was, personal computers were only just starting to open new horizons for productivity, and the cell phone was an emerging technology. Back in the 80s, many Western industrialists and business commentators were concerned about the rise of Japanese competitiveness. Many suspected the Japanese possessed a cultural secret that made their rapid post-war success possible. The answer was much simpler: slow and steady Continuous Improvement following the scientific method. This is called KAIZEN™, but for many it remains foreign and challenging to practice without guidance and support, even until this day.

Masaaki Imai saw the need to develop more teachers to accelerate the spread of KAIZEN™ knowledge. The result was the formation of Kaizen Institute in 1985 as a management consulting company. As he travelled the world, sharing what he had put together as KAIZEN™ and business excellence demonstrated by Toyota and other like-minded companies, he encountered people hungry for more. 

Kaizen Institute started operating in North America and Europe, providing the practical and hands-on nature of KAIZEN™ implementation. KAIZEN™ cannot be understood without doing. In the decade that followed the publication of Masaaki Imai’s first book, a growing number of leaders read it and put it into practice, often with the assistance of Kaizen Institute, while some brought Japanese sensei to learn from their experience in Continuous Improvement.

To go beyond the introduction of the theory of KAIZEN™, Masaaki Imai wrote his follow-up book “GembaKaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management” (McGraw Hill 1997). This book proved to be even more influential with many practical applications. It featured over 20 worldwide case studies from companies who had adopted KAIZEN™. Readers were rewarded with a more comprehensive and in-depth explanation of how KAIZEN™ can (and should) become part of a company’s management system and strategy, not only for manufacturing but for other sectors as well. GembaKaizen brought to light the importance of focusing on gemba, or the frontline, and how organizations could be transformed by understanding the customer (internal and external). Furthermore, the book emphasized the empowerment of frontline people (who are closest to the final customer) so they can make ongoing improvements through a bottom-up approach instead of the typical top-down, command and control. 

GembaKaizen also recovered Training Within Industry (TWI) from the dustbin of history, explaining the key role that TWI played in Japan’s post-war rebuild, in Toyota’s frontline management development, and ultimately in the creation of KAIZEN™. The book emphasized the gemba as the source of value within a company, and how a management team must reorient itself to support and enable Continuous Improvement by engaging everyone, everywhere, every day.

Kaizen Institute expanded further into Asia, Africa, Latin America and Middle East to better serve organizations in different parts of the world. The global community of KAIZEN™ Institute consultants and trainers grew larger, with new languages, cultures, experiences, case studies of all kinds, and perspectives on how to teach and implement KAIZEN™ worldwide. The need to apply a broader, more comprehensive and systematic way of applying KAIZEN™, resulted in prototyping the KAIZEN™ Business System (KBS) in the mid-2000s. Ever since, KBS has been evolving continually, based on the requirements of the client while staying true to the authentic roots established by Masaaki Imai. This improvement system fits all organizations regardless of size, sector, function, culture, language, economy, or environment. It is a proven model to enable an authentic transformative system, pursuing a sustainable, never-ending, competitive, and profitable improvement culture led by a gemba-oriented top management.

Today, Kaizen Institute serves numerous multinational corporations and national organizations alike. The holistic KAIZEN™ approach empowers strategy development and improvement in the boardroom, the industrial shop floor and the office of a service company. It supports the development of cross-functional teams working in value streams, and improves R&D, alongside sales and marketing efficiency, to fulfil a growth strategy. KAIZEN™ incorporates efficient project management and helps to effectively start-up businesses. The comprehensive KAIZEN™ methodology is truly everyone, everywhere, every day improvement. 

KAIZEN™ has always been a holistic, strategic, and practical approach, yielding ongoing results through systematic efforts. It is an error when organizations focus on applying methods and tools to improve processes only without investing the effort to cultivate the improvement culture and the ability to manage change, as it leads to disconnected, disjointed, and unsustainable improvement activities; becoming wasteful practices itself.  

Kaizen Institute continues to research, develop, teach, and implement the highly effective and efficient KAIZEN™ system to empower clients in their pursuit of organizational excellence. Our service goes beyond methods and tools. We are proud of our profound and systematic approach to establish the KAIZEN™ culture, supported by KAIZEN™ experts across the globe who know how to transform organizations.

In 2020 Kaizen Institute is grateful to celebrate 35 years of a phenomenal history.

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