There is not so much a difference between Kaizen and continuous improvement, but rather continuous improvement is a core principle to the Kaizen methodology and philosophy. Literally translated, Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning improvement. It is important to remember that Kaizen is not a one-time adjustment but rather an ongoing process.
Kaizen believes not in sporadic, major changes, but rather continuously making improvements around the facility through small changes. The improvement can come in many forms including waste elimination, improved efficiency, safer work environments, and much more. Kaizen’s principles, tools, and strategies all provide a framework that spur continuous improvement.
For instance, the Plan > Do > Check > Act Cycle is a cycle often used for the implementation of Kaizen and related activities. The cycle emphasizes a recurring and continuous pattern. When starting a Kaizen project, it is important to do so through the PDCA cycle, and then go back to the plan step with standardization or improvements. Kaizen also uses tools like value stream maps and process maps to illustrate the steps in processes in order for managers to identify areas of improvement. Continuously keeping these maps updated and accurate is important to making informed decisions on improvements around the workplace.
Another key to Kaizen is the involvement and empowerment of employees from all levels and departments. Those working on the frontline can be extremely valuable in identifying small improvements as they observe production day in and day out. Having a process by which employees can implement improvements through the PDCA cycle with little interference from management can be very helpful. It is also helpful to Kaizen for managers and leaders to create and foster a workplace that is based on teamwork. By creating a teamwork environment where everyone is working together to ensure ongoing improvement you will be much more successful in the long run.