Transportation Science

What is the origin and impact of Toyota’s kaizen philosophy?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Kaizen is the name of a Japanese philosophy that literally translates to “improvement.” Kaizen focuses on constant betterment, solving problems early and eliminating waste.

    Kaizen is generally associated with Toyota. Following World War II, Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno was sent to the United States to get ideas for Japanese machine shops. He went back home with an interesting suggestion: Don’t follow the model of Ford’s assembly lines - follow the model of American grocery stores. Ohno was critical of the waste and inefficiency on display in American auto manufacturing, while he was deeply impressed by the minimum-inventory philosophy being used by the average supermarket. Ohno made his recommendations to Toyota accordingly.

    These days, Toyota’s kaizen philosophy promotes constant improvement and the goal of total efficiency. For example, Toyota attempts to avoid holding excess inventory, which takes up space and can be lost. Instead, Toyota plants order exactly as much inventory as they need, and they time their orders so that products arrive exactly when the plants need them. Kaizen not only informs the big picture inventory decisions in car factories - it also charges employees with always keeping their eyes open for ways to improve quality. In fact, if a Toyota worker predicts that a certain problem is about to arise, the worker is actually encouraged to cease his or her work and focus on preventing the problem.

    The kaizen philosophy can be applied on a small scale as well. For example, while kaizen is known as one of the fundamental principles of Toyota’s business model, it can also be a fundamental principle of individual car ownership. If you apply this basic philosophy to your car maintenance regime, it may actually help you avoid problems with your car. Since most car trouble is the result of poor maintenance or just regular wear and tear over a long period of time, you can often improve your car’s lifespan by checking frequently for small problems and fixing them before they become large problems. Be thorough with your maintenance sessions. Check everything, and don’t leave problems for later - fix them as soon as they become apparent.

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