History of Kaizen
The Japanese word Kaizen (改善 in Chinese and Kanji) has probably been in existence for as long as the two languages existed. However, its use as a business improvement methodology or concept has a very interesting recent history after World War II.
Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) group
After World War II, to help restore Japan, American occupation forces brought in American experts to help with the rebuilding of Japanese industry. The Economic and Scientific Section (ESS) group was tasked with improving Japanese management skills.
The film – Kaizen eno Yon Dankai
In 1951, the ESS group had a training film to introduce the three TWI “J” programs (Job Instruction, Job Methods and Job Relations). The film was titled “Improvement in 4 Steps” (Kaizen eno Yon Dankai). This was how “Kaizen”, as a business improvement methodology or concept, was introduced to Japan.
Training Within Industry (TWI)
The small-step work improvement approach was developed in the USA under Training Within Industry program (TWI Job Methods). Instead of encouraging large, radical changes to achieve desired goals, these methods recommended that organizations introduce small improvements, preferably ones that could be implemented on the same day. The major reason was that during World War II there was neither time nor resources for large and innovative changes in the production of war equipment. The essence of the approach came down to improving the use of the existing workforce and technologies.
Contributions of American experts
American experts including Lowell Mellen and W. Edwards Deming arrived in Japan in the early 1950s to provide consultancy to Japanese businesses on TWI, statistical control processes and other continuous improvement techniques. For the pioneering, introduction and implementation of Kaizen in Japan, the Emperor of Japan awarded the 2nd Order Medal of the Sacred Treasure to Dr. Deming in 1960.
The link between TWI-Kaizen-TPS-Lean
The introduction of Training Within Industry (TWI) program led to the development of Kaizen, which subsequently evolved into Toyota Production System (TPS), and eventually Lean Production.