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This section explains the purpose of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard , its organization, and how to use it for support in leading a Kaizen event.


Kaizen (pronounced ki-zen) is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. As we use the term, it is a method that strives toward perfection by eliminating waste. It eliminates waste by empowering people with tools and a methodology for uncovering improvement opportunities and making change. Kaizen understands waste to be any activity that is not value-adding from the perspective of the customer. By value-adding, we mean any work done right the first time that materially changes a product or service in ways for which a well-informed and reasonable customer is willing to pay.

Importance of Kaizen

Waste consumes resources—both human and material—pointlessly. People implementing wasteful processes are themselves wasted. They are robbed of the satisfaction of engaging in meaningful tasks that produce outputs customers value. Moreover, they are degraded as humans because engaging in activities that are not meaningful treats their energies and earnest efforts as commodities of little value. When constrained to execute these imperfect processes without the opportunity to make them better, people are denied the exercise of their capacity to learn and improve and thereby grow to the full measure of their capabilities. As for material resources, the financial and material investments in enterprise are prevented from achieving the greatest returns possible.

The application of Kaizen reverses the consequences of waste. Kaizen events have repeatedly demonstrated that the level of value-adding activity in unimproved, labor-intensive work processes is less than 5%—or, put another way, that only 5% of the resources invested in such work processes leverage return to owners, while a full 95% is squandered. Kaizen teaches people to see and eliminate this waste. By empowering people to uncover improvement opportunities and make change, Kaizen respects their humanity and allows them to apply their most valuable qualities toward making the enterprise successful. Kaizen enables people to grow to the full measure of their capabilities, enriching their own personal and professional lives while enhancing the human capital of the business. Through progressive and continuous elimination of waste, Kaizen lets performers continually increase the amount of the material resources that leverage payback and not simply payout.


Why a Kaizen Desk Reference Standard ?

To date, the Kaizen process has not been systematized or well documented. Although there are many books on Kaizen, their messages are largely about the philosophy of Kaizen or principles to guide one's thinking either about Kaizen or during the performance of Kaizen. Previous books have not provided a rigorous, streamlined process for executing Kaizen nor the detailed knowledge needed to ensure excellent performance. Ironically, this absence of a systematic and documented process stands in opposition to continuous improvement. Without a defined work process as a standard, there is no reference for learning and no opportunity to enhance performance. In other words, Kaizen, as currently practiced, offers no opportunity to Kaizen itself.

The Kaizen Desk Reference Standard redresses this deficiency by providing a step-by-step process with detailed guidance and tailored tools to support the execution of Kaizen. It provides workers the opportunity to study and learn Kaizen on their own and supplies an aid for doing Kaizen. To achieve these ends, the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard includes:

  • a work process map for executing Kaizen;
  • detailed task guidance explaining how to execute each component of the process including milestones, tasks, and steps and the rules to apply in making decisions along the way; and
  • tools such as checklists, spreadsheets, forms, announcements, and role descriptions to help in defining the scope of an event, preparing to execute it, conducting the event including documenting what was done and analyzing the results it produced, and following up to ensure that the process improvements make sustained contributions to the business.


Organization of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard

The Kaizen Desk Reference Standard is organized into the following units.

  • Introduction - explains the purpose of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard, its organization, and how to use it for support in leading a Kaizen event.
  • Overview of Kaizen - presents an overview of the goal of Kaizen and our system for accomplishing this goal.
  • Kaizen in Action - describes a Kaizen event conducted according to the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard.
  • Milestone A. Document a Scope for the Kaizen Event - guides in gathering information that defines the boundaries of and reasons for performing a Kaizen event.
  • Milestone B. Analyze Whether to Conduct the Kaizen Event - explains how to evaluate whether holding the Kaizen event is likely to produce the business benefits sought by the people requesting the event.
  • Milestone C. Prepare for the Kaizen Event - guides in readying the people, setting, and resources needed to conduct the Kaizen event.
  • Milestone D. Perform the Kaizen Event - tells how to execute the Kaizen event in a manner that energizes people and eliminates waste in the target work process.
  • Milestone E. Institutionalize the Process Improvements - guides in ensuring that work process or workplace improvements provide ongoing and maximum benefits for the business.
  • Customizing the Kaizen Process - advises about tailoring the Kaizen process to meet special requirements including accelerating the process, addressing office applications, and planning for multiple Kaizen events within the same business.
  • Ending Note: Of Sanctity and Sacrilege - provides a cautionary note to those who may desire the monetary gains Kaizen produces but not the added capability and desire of people to participate in conducting the business.
  • Glossary - defines specialized words used in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard.
  • User Evaluation and Feedback Form - provides a questionnaire that requests your feedback about the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard in our effort to continuously improve its effectiveness.


How to Use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard

You can use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard to support you both personally and professionally. Personally, use it as a learning resource to develop your ability to improve work processes and contribute to a business's success. Professionally, use this book as a real-time resource to guide you in leading Kaizen events and as a baseline for improving the Kaizen process.

Personal Development

To use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard as a learning resource, begin by building a mental image of what Kaizen is and how it is executed. Strengthen this image by reflecting on it and representing it on paper for yourself. Use the Overview of Kaizen unit to build your image. Add flesh to your mental image by reading the unit Kaizen in Action. Check whether the example of Kaizen it describes matches the image of Kaizen in your mind.

If you prefer building your understanding of a new skill by first seeing it performed, then reverse this process. Read the unit Kaizen in Action first and then build your mental image. Use the Overview of Kaizen unit to test your image of Kaizen.

In either case, cycle between these two units until you have a sure sense of what Kaizen is about. Use the Glossary to explain terms with which you are unfamiliar.

Once you are satisfied with your internal image of Kaizen, create a schedule for study that systematically takes you through this entire book one unit at a time. Proceed through the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard in accordance with your schedule. Apply the following method to fill out your mental framework with the detailed knowledge you uncover. This strategy allows you to build your learning incrementally and root it deeply in your mind.

  1. Read the guidance provided in the selected Kaizen Desk Reference Standard unit. Continue to use the Glossary to explain terms with which you are unfamiliar.

  2. Try applying the guidance to a work process with which you are highly familiar.
    Tip As you study, imagine doing the Kaizen process on your chosen work process. For example, when you study Milestone A. Document a Scope for the Kaizen Event, first assume the role of the manager of the work process and provide the information needed to produce the scope document. Then assume the role of the Kaizen leader who must apply the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard guidance for Milestone A and for each remaining milestone.

  3. Write out any questions, issues, or problems you detected and search back in the standard for additional guidance that may help resolve your concerns.
  4. Discuss the guidance and unresolved questions or concerns with someone who is qualified in leading a Kaizen event using the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard.
    Tip If you do not have access to a qualified Kaizen leader, consider enrolling in our training program for preparing Kaizen leaders. See details at our website, Bring your questions and concerns to the training so that we can personalize our instruction to address your particular needs. For help with specific issues, use the Kaizen Forum provided at our website. Post your questions to the forum and benefit from the responses offered by other Kaizen practitioners.


Professional Achievement

Professionally, you will apply Kaizen in two contexts. The first is when you are asked to resolve a deficiency in the operating results of a particular work process (e.g., inadequate throughput, excessive unit cost, untimely delivery of outputs). This type of request is what usually triggers the first use of Kaizen in a work process. The second context is when you will lead return events on the same work process. This recycling of Kaizen to drive continuous improvement is typically supported by managers once they have had an opportunity to see Kaizen in action. It then becomes clear how Kaizen can reveal new opportunities for improvement even when the current operating results seem satisfactory.

The Kaizen Desk Reference Standard is a real-time resource to guide you in leading Kaizen events under either of these circumstances. It contains knowledge that will assist you in describing an initial request to remedy problematic operating performance as well as knowledge that enables you to detect opportunities for improvement even when the owners of a work process are satisfied with current performance.

To use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard as a real-time performance aid, consult the book prior to beginning each component of the Kaizen process. Use the review to refresh your understanding of what you need to do and what principles you should keep in mind as you make decisions. Next, consult the book while executing the component on an as-needed basis. The electronic version is especially handy for this purpose, as you can rapidly access guidance using the locator aids embedded in it (see below). Finally, consult the book after you complete each component to verify that you accomplished it correctly. Use the Check Steps section at the end of each milestone, task, and step guidance as a quick way to verify that you performed the component correctly and the Output section to ensure that you generated each required product.

You can also use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard as a baseline solution for executing Kaizen. At the end of each event, make time to reflect on the process and outcomes you produced by applying the knowledge in this baseline process. Extract learning about yourself and the method and develop ways to elevate your execution of Kaizen along with any insights into how to make the Kaizen process better. Please share those ideas with us using the feedback mechanism described below (page 7). Consider using our Status, Reason, Learning, Direction (SRLD™) product to support your learning efforts. Information about SRLD™ is available at our website. Also consider becoming a member of our website and using our Kaizen Forum to benefit from the ideas and learning of other Kaizen leaders.


Locating Guidance

To use the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard for either personal or professional purposes requires that you understand how to navigate it to locate the knowledge you need.

Print Version

The Kaizen Desk Reference Standard has several locator aids to assist you in finding specific information. These include:

  • a table of contents,
  • a preview page marking the beginning of each unit, and
  • an index of topics at the end of the book.
Electronic Version

The electronic version of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard includes all the locator features of the print version with some additions. In the electronic version, you can click on "buttons" (see Exhibit 1, next page, for examples) to move to the referenced text. The right side of the table of contents, for example, has each listing set as a button. Similarly, each listing in the index has an associated button so you can quickly jump to the guidance identified. There are buttons located throughout the electronic version of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard to make access to guidance rapid and easy.

In addition, you may find any word or topic in the electronic version of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard by pressing CTRL+F and entering it into the pop-up form that appears. You may search for the exact word you enter or similar words based on the option you select. Adobe Acrobat Reader® will locate the first instance of a match. You may proceed to subsequent instances by pressing CTRL+G.


Kaizen Tool Kit

The Kaizen Tool Kit brings together, in electronic format, many of the forms and other materials referenced in the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard. The Kaizen Tool Kit is on the CD-ROM that accompanies the print edition of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard or on the CD-ROM containing the electronic edition. Insert the CD-ROM into your computer drive, and the Kaizen Tool Kit installation program will open automatically. If it does not, locate the autorun.exe file on the CD, then double click on the file. This action will initiate the installation of the Kaizen Tool Kit. You will need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader® 4.0 or higher installed on your computer. An installation copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader® 5.0 is provided on your CD-ROM1 and it will be installed for you, if you give permission. You also need Microsoft Word 2000® and Microsoft Excel 2000® to use the items in the Tool Kit. Tool Kit materials are listed in the beginning of each unit of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard in the Materials, Tools, and Other Resources section. Once the installation is completed, a shortcut icon will appear on your desktop. Clicking on this icon will open the Kaizen Tool Kit and provide you access to its contents.


Improving the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard

Vital Enterprises is committed to continuously improving the contents and presentation of this Kaizen Desk Reference Standard. To this end, we have included a feedback questionnaire at the end of this book; an electronic version of the form is provided in the Kaizen Tool Kit. Please complete the electronic questionnaire and provide your ideas on how this book may be improved to serve you better. Print and mail the questionnaire or fax your feedback to: Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D., Vital Enterprises, One Winning Way, Hope, Maine 04847 (Fax: 207-763-3710). As an alternative, visit our website and complete the feedback form online. By providing feedback on the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard online, you will have the opportunity to become a member of our website and obtain access to our Kaizen Forum and other services dedicated to supporting new learning by users of the Kaizen Desk Reference Standard. For more details about these services, see our website.

1 Adobe Acrobat Reader is also available free of charge at

Kaizen Desk Reference Standard Excerpt: Introduction