Continuous improvement is arguably one of the most important concepts in Japanese management, and is the main difference between Japanese and Western approaches to business and management. Known in Japan as ‘Kaizen’, continuous improvement is an ‘umbrella concept’ where all aspects of social life, working life and home life are constantly improved.
Western businesses, when attempting to improve efficiency and quality, tend to result in one-off advances; long periods of steady productivity are followed by a sudden rise which, in turn, is followed by long time stability.
Although it can be difficult for workers within business to continuously make improvements, Japanese businesses introduced the Plan, Do, Check, Action (PDCA) cycle.
• Plan: businesses need to identify where improvement is most needed, gathering data to be used to develop a plan.
• Do: once finalised, the plan must be put into action, more than likely to be carried out by workers.
• Check: checks must be carried out by inspectors in order to see if there has been any improvement.
• Action: if the plan has been successful, it can then be introduced to all parts of the business.