Toyota has a reputation for building extremely reliable vehicles that last and last. They tend to be at the top or very near the top of most consumer surveys for reliability. In fact, this year, the Toyota and its luxury division Lexus took the two top spots in Consumer Reports Annual Auto Reliability Survey. Have you ever wondered how this remarkable automaker seems to deliver industry leading reliability year after year? We have too and thanks to Lustine Toyota (Wood-bridge, VA) what we learned was about an ancient Japanese philosophy called Kaizen. The philosophy has been implemented in an informal way in the company since 1960, and its principles were set down in the official description the Toyota Production System in 1992.

What is Kaizen

The name Kaizen roughly translated means “good change,” and it originated in Japan. It is a method that is meant to help you bring order to what you do. The best way to describe this method to someone that never heard of it would be “continuous improvement.” It brings together a whole new mindset that one can use to be successful at whatever task or in any situation.

5 Steps

The Kaizen philosophy can be broken down into 6 different steps. Once you read through all 6 steps, the power of Kaizen will become evident.

Step 1: Standardize – The first thing you need to do is come up with a process for what you are trying to do. A good example would be if you worked installing a component on a car – what steps would you take to complete the job from start to finish? You have to remember, this needs to be repeatable as well as organized.

Step 2: Measure – Next, you need to be able to measure your results. You could measure completion time, quality control satisfaction – any metric that would be desirable to improve. Is your current method is working well.

Step 3: Innovate – Once you are done with examining, start looking at other ways to get things done. The odds are, the first method is not always going to be the best. The important thing to remember about this step is it really helps you explore your options and find better ways to get things done.

Step 4: Standardize the new way—Go back and create repeatable processes for the new ways. Remember that these need to be measurable, and different from the first way you worked before.

Step 5: Repeat – Go back to step one and start the entire process all over again.


In Summary

Kaizen refers to the philosophy of continuous improvement, where the input and involvement of all employees is sought in order to improve production processes on every level. This is the cornerstone of the Toyota Production System and is often seen as the source of its competitive advantage. While many automakers have attempted to copy Toyota’s approach, none have been fully successful. This is thought to be because Toyota’s philosophy is so deeply ingrained in its corporate culture and this is difficult to emulate in other companies.


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