Tools for Organization Development Professionals. Kaizen What? A Quick and Easy Way to Process Improvement



Over the years and through my studies and consulting engagements, I have encountered many frameworks and theories and have deployed many of these in my consulting cases, for example, the McKinsey 7S Model or Appreciative Inquiry. One model that I feel does not get enough credit in the western world is Kaizen.  

So, what is Kaizen, and why should you care? Great question. Kaizen is a continuous improvement method that is used in manufacturing. For some, you might be familiar with similar methods like Lean in Project Management or the Toyota Production System (TPS). Kaizen was first introduced in the 1960’s when engineer Taiichi Ohno created the TPS and was used to establish quality, profitability, and cost reduction objectives. So, how does this relate to organization development? 

Let me tell you how I have implemented this recently within an organization. I was called into an organization who was struggling with processes, low engagement of employees, and lack of innovation. This organization was small and on a very limited budget but needed to implement a solution quickly. This organization did not want all the bells and whistles associated with Warner Burkes 7 Phases of Organizational Development or Process Consulting from interviews, surveys, and/or a major intervention plan. They needed something quick and easy within five days. Enter Kaizen.

There are four stages in Kaizen. These include:

Stage 1- Preliminary Analysis

Stage 2- Choosing working teams and quality circles

Stage 3- Implementation and calculating results

Stage 4- Feedback

This project was scheduled for a one week duration with three working hours for five days. So, I had 15 hours to complete a Kaizen with measurable and repeatable results. Task Accepted.

Stage 1: Preliminary Analysis

When working with the organizational leadership, we explored the concerns that had been brought up and used a fishbone diagram to map them out. Based on this diagram, we immediately identified some major areas for improvement and labeled the rest of the concerns as secondary – to be explored at a later Kaizen intervention. 

Step 2: Choosing a working team. 

This was a small organization with only 10 employees. The team comprised all 10 members. For this example, I will only provide one issue and one solution. This group got together and identified solutions to the immediate problems defined and even provided additional concerns to be added to the Fishbone Diagram. 

Issue 1 – Identified – Employee Dissatisfaction (80% dissatisfaction rate)

Solution – More Leadership Feedback and Listening to ideas

Step 3: Implementation and Calculating Results

Based on these solutions, presented as having better feedback and listening by leadership, employee satisfaction increased by 50%. This is a real and tangible number that can be measured.  

Step 4: Feedback

Note that there are many additional opportunities that were presented.  Some could not be explored or dealt with during the first iteration of a Kaizen but the problems have been identified, employees know these identified problems will be worked on in the next Kaizen, and process is being made within the organization. 

Final Thoughts

Though this was a very simple example, it shows the power of communication and a simple intervention method. Kaizen is great to use in smaller process improvement projects, but I would consider it unscalable for large change initiatives. One thing to keep in mind, process improvement is continuous.  

About the Author:
Dr. Daniel Zimmerman is a Dean of Business and Technology for a large U.S based University. In addition, he is a managing partner for a OD consulting firm based in Chicago and teaches organizational development, management, and human resources internationally at all levels of secondary education. Dr. Zimmerman also teaches organization development certifications at the Institute of Organizational Development, is an OD Certified Professional (ODCP), and is a proud member of GIODN.
For more information, please contact Dr. Zimmerman at or inquire about becoming OD certified with the Institute of Organization Development (IOD)


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