Content By Mark Graban and Gregory Jacobson, M.D.

By: Mark Graban and Gregory Jacobson, M.D.

When the Japanese word kaizen entered the language of quality improvement via Masaaki Imai’s seminal book, Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, (McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 1986), the author defined kaizen as “ongoing improvement involving everyone.” In a 2011 video posted on YouTube, Imai reinforced that kaizen means “everyday improvement, everybody improvement, and everywhere improvement.”

If kaizen is the never-ending practice of “continuous improvement,” how did the word get associated with episodic weeklong improvement projects that are referred to as “kaizen events” or “kaizen blitzes?” An improvement event that starts on Monday and ends on Friday, to be followed up by another event that’s held three months later, hardly sounds continuous at all. These could be more aptly named “kaikaku events,” after the Japanese word that means “radical change,” but instead the term “kaizen event” has taken root.