Kaizen: A Japanese business philosophy


Written by Dr Ian C Dunican

Welcome to 2020. Many of us start the new year with aspirations and goals. Maybe now, a few weeks into January we may be reconsidering those goals or wondering how we may tackle them. Achieving our goals requires a plan and sustained effort over time. We need to apply ourselves through improvement and application every day. Organisational goal setting and achievement is no different.

Fourteen years ago, when working in a business improvement role, I studied the Japanese management system, “Lean”1. The Lean system was developed and utilised by Toyota, tracing back to post World War II in the rebuilding of Japan and manufacturing in the USA. During this time, substantial scale improvements were not appropriate due to long periods of downtime and the resulting negative impact on productivity. Toyota overcame this challenge through the development and deployment of a culture of small incremental improvements, an approach that has since gained global recognition known as Kaizen.

Kaizen 改善 is a Japanese term that translates to small incremental improvements over time or change for the better. Not too dissimilar to the Latin word “Melius” to make better in good style. In today’s busy world, we tend to overcommit and become obsessed with “step-change” or major improvement projects often termed as “breakthrough projects”. While a “step-change” project can be an excellent method for improvement in an organisation, it can be costly, time-consuming and people-intensive.

Organisations can’t always afford a “step-change” or can commit resources; this is where Kaizen can help. Kaizen is as much a philosophy as it is an improvement methodology and can be described as 1) Kaizen events and 2) Kaizen philosophy. Kaizen is often as 1,000,000 X $1 ideas as opposed to 1 X $1,000,000 idea. Kaizen can apply to many parts of an organisation including procedures, process flows, maintenance activities, finance, safety and health. The introduction of Kaizen into a business culture can result in many improvements such as a reduction in time, cost, rework, improvement in quality and value addition to the customer.

Sleep4Performance supports businesses to develop a Kaizen system and promote a culture of Kaizen to identify improvement opportunities for occupational health, safety and productivity.

Contact us at

Ian Dunican
Sleep4Performance PTY LTD
+409 680 867


  1. Liker JK. The Toyota way : 14 management principles from the world greatest manufacturer: New York : McGraw-Hill, [2004] ©2004 2004.



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