Discover all KAIZEN™ relevant terms and definitions.


A visual management tool, originating from the Japanese word for ‘lamp’. Most commonly, andons are lights placed on machines or on production lines to indicate operation status, notifying management, maintenance and other workers. Andons are commonly color-coded green (normal operations), yellow (changeover or planned maintenance), and red (quality or process issue, machine down) often combined with an audible signal such as chimes, music or alarms. The andon concept can also be used to show project status with the colors green, yellow, or red meaning "on track, slipping, late" or to indicate general business performance, for example, "on target, behind target, target missed".

Common Causes

In quality control, inherent source of variation that is 1. random, 2. always present, and 3. affects every outcome of the process. Common cause is usually traced to an element of the system that can be corrected only by the management. Also called assignable cause.

Control Chart

A chart with upper and lower control limits within which a machine or process is "in control". Frequently a centerline, midway between the two limits, helps detect trends toward one or the other. Plotting critical measurements on the chart shows when a machine or process is going/has gone "out of control" and must be adjusted to return to the expected performance level. It is one of the Basic Seven Tools of Quality and enables immediate feedback, problem solving, people engagement and hansei.

Core Process

Key activity, or, cluster of activities, which must be performed in an exemplary manner to ensure a organisation's continued competitiveness because it adds primary value to the customer through its QCD-outputs.

Cross Functional Management

The inter-departmental coordination required to realize strategic and policy goals of KAIZEN™ and Total Quality Management. Company-wide management of quality is achieved by breaking down silos and focusing on value streams. Its critical importance lies in the follow-through to achieve goals and measures.


The core principles, beliefs, values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. It is the way people, think, feel and act habitually in an organization.

Customer, external

An end-user who purchases a company’s products or accesses its services but is not an employee or part of the organization. The primary goal of world-class organizations is to "continually delight" this customer, thus creating "an increasing affection" for its products and services.

Customer, internal

Any member of, or a process step within, an organization relying on the supply of materials and/or information from another person or process step to fulfill the tasks required to create value for the external customer, such as a sales representative who needs assistance from a customer service representative to place an order. Kaoru Ishikawa coined the phrase "The next process is the customer".

Deming Cycle

The Deming Cycle, or PDCA Cycle (also known as PDSA Cycle), is a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps to improve continuously and to learn: Plan, Do, Check (Study) and Act. lt is based on the Shewhart cycle as published in 1939 and was initially used by W. E. Deming to emphasize the constant interaction between research, design, production, and sales.

Eighty-twenty Rule

The 80/20-rule refers to the Pareto principle, stating that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Often used to prioritize KAIZEN™ activities through a deeper understanding of the causes of the symptoms experienced in the workplace.

Five S (5S)

5S is a simple but powerful tool for organizing a workplace in a clean, efficient and safe manner to enhance productivity, visual management and to ensure the introduction of standardized working. The main purpose of 5S is to support the efficient flow of materials, information and people; not to beautify the workplace.

  • 5S Seiri; Sort, Clearing, Classify
  • 5S Seiton; Straighten, Simplify, Set in Order
  • 5S Seiso; Sweep, Shine, Scrub, Clean and Check
  • 5S Seiketsu; Standardize, Stabilize, Conformity
  • 5S Shitsuke; Sustain, Self Discipline, Standardization

Flexible Manning (Shojinka)

Shojinka means “flexible manpower line” or the ability to adjust the production line to meet changing customer demand through multi-skilled operators and multi-use workstations. It enables the balancing of a production line regardless of fluctuating demand.

Foundation of KAIZEN™

The three principles and seven concepts of KAIZEN™ which serve as a foundation for the systems and tools required for implementation of Continuous Improvement and Total Quality Management, and which shape the culture and thinking of an organization's leadership.

Gemba (or GENBA)

A Japanese word that means "the real place". Used in the context of KAIZEN™, Gemba usually refers to the place where value is added, such as the shop floor or frontline. In a broader sense, Gemba refers to any place in an organization where work is being performed; thus one may have an engineering Gemba, a sales Gemba, an accounting Gemba, etc. Management must go to Gemba to understand the people, processes, products and problems.

Group-wide Quality Control (GWQC)

A system of continuing interaction amongst all elements, including suppliers, to pursue the continuous improvement of quality of products and services that satisfy customer requirements. It is also known as TQC (Total Quality Control). It is "Total" as in includes everything and everyone in the system.


Automatic parts ejection. Parts may be manually inserted into a machine, but when the cycle is complete the processed part is automatically ejected so the operator can simply insert the new work and move the ejected part on to the next process, thus reducing his/her cycle time.

Just-in-Time (JIT)

Just-in-Time is a system which pulls material and/or services through its value streams/transforming processes based on customer demand instead of pushing material and/or services through processes based on projected demand. This methodology can be implemented with the help of different tools and techniques, such as Continuous Flow, Heijunka, KANBAN, Standardized Work and Takt Time. Just-in-Time includes line-balancing, one-piece flow, minimal inventory of material or information.


A Japanese term meaning "Change for the better" or Continuous Improvement. KAIZEN™ is a gradual and long-term strategic and tactical approach to achieve orginisational excellence through holistic improvement. It implies improvement every day, everywhere by everyone. KAIZEN™ was popularized by Masaaki Imai in 1986 through his best-selling book "KAIZEN™: The Key To Japan's competitive Success."
In this book he indicates that KAIZEN™ is holistic when he states that "KAIZEN™ means improvement. Moreover, it means continuing improvement in personal life, home life, social life, and working life." KAIZEN™ is much more than just small, incremental improvements.

KAIZEN™ Culture

The collective KAIZEN™ behaviours in an organisation based on the KAIZEN™ principles, values and beliefs.
"The concept of KAIZEN™ is so deeply ingrained in the minds of both managers and workers that they often do not even realize that they are thinking KAIZEN™", is how Masaaki Imai states it in KAIZEN™: The Key to Japan's Competitive Success. In other words, people think, act and feel in an efficient and effective way, resulting in excellence.

KAIZEN™ Suggestion System

The KAIZEN™ Suggestion System is an essential part of individual-oriented KAIZEN™ to improve the system; not only self-interested parts of it. Its design is carefully planned, implemented and communicated, based on respect for people. Scrupulous attention is paid to top management responsiveness and to developing a system of feedback, recognition, and rewards.


A materials (or information) replenishment planning tool in a Just-in-Time production and inventory control system developed by Toyota. KANBAN is often seen as a central element of a Pull system. The root meaning of KANBAN is a visual sign (Kan = card; Ban = signal). On the basis of automatic replenishment (through signal cards that indicate when more materials or information are needed) the flow of materials and information throughout the system (suppliers,within the value stream, and the customers), is regulated. Also known  as "Kamban".

Lead Time

The total time elapsed from the point when a customer request is made until the finished product is ready for shipment to/collection by the customer. In service industries, it is the total time elapsed from when a customer expresses a need to when that need is satisfied.


Japanese word for "Waste" and a key concept in the TPS as one of the three types of inefficiencies, known as the "3Ms": muda, Mura (irregularity or unevenness) and Muri (strain, overburden or difficulty). muda is any non-value adding activity, or a task a customer is not willing to pay for.


A walk through Gemba to observe evidence of what may be various types of Muda. The object of this walk is to show that the Gemba is full of opportunities for improvement for those whose eyes are trained to see them. muda walks are not intended to blame and shame or to finding fault but to gather data about the status of the process and the people. A waste observation walk must be based on respect for people.

Contrasted to the traditional tendency to ask "Who?" and to blame people for problems and mistakes, this approach looks at the problem with others to seek a solution. Also implicit in this principle is an approach of childlike curiosity about how things work and how they can be improved, instead of judging whether people did a good or bad job; if they are right or wrong. The principle does not imply that managers must never exercise judgment, since good judgment is always required in decision-making.

Non-statistical Quality Control

Most of quality control is non-statistical, particularly that portion which has to do with human resources. Elements are self-discipline, morale, communications, human relations, and standardization. Statistics are only one tool in Quality Control and are of limited use with regard to human beings and methods. Quantitative and qualitative (human relationships/affective) observations, understanding and actions are required to make holistic improvements. 

One Piece Flow

One-piece flow production is when parts are made one at a time and passed on to the next process. Among the benefits of one-piece flow are 1) the quick detection of defects to prevent a large batch of defects, 2) short lead-times of production, 3) reduced material and inventory costs, and 4) design of equipment and workstations of minimal size. A single-piece flow approach implies the continuous effort to achieve the flow of smaller batches through the value stream, especially where single-piece flow is virtually impossible due to large quantities of tiny parts moving through a process in larger batches.


The Deming Cycle, or PDCA Cycle (also known as PDSA Cycle), is a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for Continuous Improvement and learning: Plan, Do, Study (Check) and Act. Also see Deming Cycle.


In Japan, this term is used to describe long-term and medium-range management priorities, as well as annual goals or targets. Policy is composed of both goals and measures (ends and means). Goals (control points) are usually quantitative figures established by top management, such as sales, profit, and market share. Measures (check points) are the specific actions or tactics designed to achieve these goals.

Policy Deployment

The process of implementing the policies of an organization's leadership directly through line managers and indirectly through cross-functional integration and cooperation. Also known as "Hoshin Kanri" or "Strategy Deployment".


The concept of QCD (Quality, Cost, Delivery) mainly emphasises the provision of products and services to the customers based on the quality, price, and time expectations as researched or studied by the supplier. Each value stream/process must determine the QCD expectations of the customer to ensure value is continuously being provided. This is especially important in Research and Development/Innovation and Design.

Quality Function Deployment

A system whereby customer requirements, known as "true quality characteristics", are identified first before being translated into design characteristics, (known as "counterpart characteristics") and then deployed into sub-systems (for example, components, parts and production processes) to develop new products that will meet customer needs accurately. QFD is one of the seven KAIZEN™ Systems.

Radar Chart

A circular chart with ten rays and spokes, one for each of the three principles and seven concepts of KAIZEN™. It is used as a diagnostic tool to measure on a scale of zero (at the hub) to ten (at the rim) the degree of consistency with KAIZEN™ principles and concepts exhibited by an organization.

Results-Oriented Management

A management style usually associated with controls, process performance, product or "bottom line" considerations, rewards and/or punishments. "Management By Objectives" does not give enough consideration to "Management By Means". A KAIZEN™ principle is to manage process AND the subsequent results. Process-orientated management is the opposite of the more Western-focused results-driven management style. The latter often causes an imbalanced, ineffective and inefficient systems as the impact of people and processes on results, are often overlooked.

SDCA Cycle (Standardize, Do, Check, Act)

A refinement of the PDCA cycle aimed at the stabilization of processes prior to making attempts to improve it. SDCA and PDCA becomes a continuous iteration between following standards and improving standards.


A flexible way of managing the people requirement in processes based on customer demand. When demand decreases workers can be re-deployed to areas where needed, or when demand increases, they can be deployed to areas requiring additional support. Shojinka is preferred to the system of maximizing machine capacity, which pays no attention to customer demand and TAKT time resulting in high levels of inventory and other subsequent muda like transportation, defects, etc.

Statistical Quality Control (SQC)

The use of statistical tools (Pareto Charts, Histograms, Check Cause-and-Effect Diagrams, etc.) to ensure that machines are within acceptable tolerances, or to solve quality problems through the use of tools.


TAKT Time is the total available production time divided by the number of units required by the customer. It is a theoretical figure to indicate how much time is required to produce a single unit. It is a vital element in balancing single-piece production flows.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

TPM is a holistic approach to maintenance that focuses on proactive and preventative maintenance to maximize the operational time of equipment. TPM blurs the distinction between maintenance and production by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.

Total Quality Control or Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total Quality Management is an integrative philosophy of management for continuously improving the quality of products and processes.
TQM is based on the premise that the quality of products and processes is the responsibility of everyone involved with the creation of the products or services offered by an organization, requiring the involvement of management, workforce, suppliers, and customers, to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Toyota Production System (TPS)

A methodology that resulted since the 1950s through the application of KAIZEN™ at Toyota Motor Corporation. TPS is built on the pillars of Just-in-Time and Jidoka.

Upstream Management

A KAIZEN™ concept and process whereby, through continuous improvement, defects are eliminated farther and farther "upstream" in the production process, first in inspection, then in the line, then in development. The Five Why technique is helpful to identify upstream issues; the root-causes of the problems identified later in the value stream.

Value Stream Mapping

Creating a visual picture of the current state of how material and information flows from suppliers, through internal transformation processes, to the customer. Total lead-time, process cycle times,value-added times, and non-value-added times are measured. Other data like quality and cost is also analysed. A future state is designed based on value stream goals, market conditions and strategic objectives for the organisation.

Variability Control and Recurrence Prevention

A KAIZEN™ concept which is often called "Ask why five times" because it seeks through curious questioning to arrive at the root cause of a problem so that the problem can be eliminated once and for all. See "Five Whys".

Visible Management

The presentation of a wide variety of information in the workplace. Such information may pertain to jobs themselves, to the business as a whole, to how work teams are progressing on a project. Examples of Visible Managment are KANBAN cards, tool shadow boards, storyboards, etc.

Visual Management

Visual Management is a set of techniques for creating a workplace embracing visual communication and control throughout the work environment. Visual Management makes abnormalities visible for everyone and creates urgency to resolve the problems that can now be seen (transparency). It also makes it easy to understand the processes which have been put into place. 5S forms an integral part of managing the workplace in a visual way, underpinned by visual standards.


A term in TQC that refers to things that are not yet problems, but are still not quite right. They are often the starting point of improvement activities because if left untended, they may develop into serious problems. In Gemba, it is usually the operators who first notice Warusa-Kagen, therefore, they are on the front line of improvement.

Water-Spider (Mizusumashi)

A person who manages all the logistical work of bringing components, raw materials, etc. in small quantities to work stations to minimize work-in- process inventories. This allows machines to be placed closer together, and prevents the operator from having to interrupt his/her cycle time, thus minimizing transportation muda. Water spiders usually are experienced workers. They know where needed parts or raw materials are stored, and serve several workstations.


Yokoten is a Japanese word meaning "horizontal deployment" and refers to the practice of applying good results of KAIZEN™ in one area to other areas. Yokoten can also refer to "copying" product design ideas, business processes or better machine settings, materials or methods in general. Yokoten requires a culture of "go see" information-sharing between departments to learn from successes and failures. Yokoten is an essential part of long-term success in a KAIZEN™ culture, but can also have a big impact on short-term results; it is a success multiplier.

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