What is Kaizen and what is holding us back from Continuous Improvement

Tan Thye Chuan
3 min readAug 4, 2020


Have you ever heard of Kaizen? For some of you who might have heard of it, you might have heard it from work as Continuous Improvement. How do we apply Kaizen successfully to our lives and work?

I will be answering the following:

  • What is Kaizen
  • What is the essence of Kaizen
  • Hansei — the first step to practice Kaizen
  • The relatedness of Hansei to Self-Awareness

What is Kaizen

Kaizen is a management methodology of Continuous Improvement introduced by Masaaki Imai, who worked with Taiichi Ohno to share the message of the Toyota Production System. The name Kaizen came from the Japanese word “改善” that translates to Change for the Better.

Outside of its origins in manufacturing, Kaizen has also been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, and banking.

What is the essence of Kaizen

As the founder Masaaki Imai explains, he feels that Continous Improvement isn’t good enough to explain the methodology because it does not carry the self-discipline and commitment that everybody needs to have.

Masaaki’s new interpretation of Kaizen is:
Everyday Improvement,
Everybody Improvement and
Everywhere Improvement.

Everyday Improvement

Everyday is a challenge of finding better ways to improve ourselves. As soon we complete something yesterday, we should be doing something better today. It is not about taking something easy after completing something.

Everybody Improvement

Everybody improvement means that it is meant for everyone, from the managers, workers and even part timers.

Everywhere Improvement

It is about improvement in all areas, not limited to just particular areas. In the case of companies, it should be company wide.

In short, the essence of Kaizen is about:

  • Self-discipline and commitment
  • Improving everyday without settling
  • Leadership from individuals
  • Improving all areas and aspects that we have

Haisei — the first step to practice Kaizen

Kaizen fails when you one fails to practice Hansei, that came from the Japanese word “反省” that translates to Self-Reflection.

Hansei involves a constant and consistent process of reflecting on what went wrong and creating plans to ensure that these do not continue to occur.

It encourages us to be objective and self-critical towards ourselves so that we continue to find opportunities towards improvement.

The relatedness of Hansei to Self-Awareness

Self-Reflection is the activity of thinking about our own feelings and behaviour, and the reasons that may lie behind them.

Self-Reflection lead us to Self-Awareness by developing an understanding from the activity of Self-Reflection, and that enables to better decision making moving forward.


Kaizen is about committing ourselves to the constant practice of Self-Reflection to achieve Self-Awareness, so that we can act on improving ourselves everyday on a continuous basis.



Tan Thye Chuan

A Data and User-driven Product & UX Manager with a passion to fuse Self-Awareness with the Agile Mindset — iamthye.com