Is Kaizen the same as Lean?

Kaizen and Lean are terms often used interchangeably but are in fact two separate entities. Both are different concepts, tools, and strategies used to solve specific problems in different ways. Kaizen and Lean both focus on similar key components.

Lean manufacturing is a business model while Kaizen can be defined as a philosophy and a methodology, and Kaizen is often referenced as a foundational Lean manufacturing method. Companies use Lean manufacturing to reduce waste, improve quality, and ultimately please the customer. Practicing Kaizen in an organization will help to foster an environment that promotes and encourages continuous improvement to meet these goals. Lean defines a list of 8 wastes known as the 8 Wastes of Lean: waiting time, extra motion, excess inventory, extra processing, over-production, defects, unnecessary transportation, and unutilized talents. Eliminating any type of waste in Kaizen and Lean will help to improve overall productivity in the workplace.

Kaizen can be extremely effective when it comes to identifying and reducing these wastes and makes an organization’s improvement possible. Kaizen is often considered an umbrella term as it has many tools and strategies it uses to propel continuous improvement, and these tools and strategies can be used to achieve Lean manufacturing goals. Put one way, Kaizen is an overarching theme in Lean workplaces, and all Lean practices relate to continuous improvement.

Another impact Kaizen can have on Lean manufacturing is through Kaizen events, and Kaizen events are very popular in many Lean manufacturing facilities. Many wastes in a workplace can be eliminated with a simple process change. When more complex issues arise however, a Kaizen event can be a very effective solution. Ideally, one wasteful process will be addressed by one Kaizen event. A team who works around or with the wasteful issue on a regular basis should be formed and brainstorm and implement solutions over the next several hours or days. Once the event has concluded, the waste should either be eliminated or reduced to planned levels.


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