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Prospects for Kaizen in Developing Countries Yujiro Yamazaki
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“Kaizen” was originated in the Japanese industry, and it has been referred to many countries as a term of action for reviewing the work at manufacturing sites. JICA (2018) is working on a Japanese-style approach to industrial development, compiled in a handbook to promote Kaizen in developing countries. A typical example of Kaizen is the Toyota Production System, which was systematized by Ohno (1978) from ideas proposed by Kiichiro Toyoda. The Toyota Production System aims to add value to the workers by eliminating non-value-added activities in the work process (the seven wastes), reducing inventory and costs by putting products on the production line only when they are needed (just-in-time), introducing “JIDOKA” machines (a machine that works on its own to deal with defects, etc., rather than simply automating machinery). How does this Kaizen approach differ from traditional production systems?

The difference between Kaizen’s traditional industrial structure and that of the conventional industrial form lies in the manufacturing process’s efficiency from the bottom-up way, as pointed out by Shimada (2018). The scientific management method advocated by Taylor, which has traditionally been mainstream in the U.S., divides the work process into small segments, measuring the time it takes to complete a task and setting daily quotas for workers to work according to those segments. The scientific management method assigns data-based quotas to each worker to improve productivity. The scientific management method is a system in which overall production functioning is achieved when each worker performs their allotted quota. On the other hand, in kaizen, as in the Toyota Production System, the emphasis is on each worker’s initiative to improve the efficiency of the entire operation. In this regard, the scientific management method is top-down, where quotas are a function of labor assigned from the top. Still, in kaizen, it can be said to be bottom-up in that efficiency is improved through the people engaged in the work. By its very nature, kaizen has also received much attention as a learning organization because the entire organization is enhanced by the proactive actions of workers (Hosono 2017). Liker (2004) noted that workers in the Toyota Production System actively engage in a variety of learning activities within the organization, and it contributes to knowledge accumulation in the organizations.

Kaizen is the cooperation of workers within a company and has been applied to developed and developing countries to improve the entire company’s environment by working on what individual workers can do within their capacity (Hosono 2017). Unlike the functionalist approach under the traditional scientific management method, it is suggestive of a Japanese development for the industrialization of developing countries, as it is expected to improve the organization’s efficiency through the initiative of each worker. On the other hand, many workers in developing countries belong to the informal sector with a systematic organizational structure, so it is necessary to consider the labor that does not apply to a discussion that assumes organizational structure to be a given. The industrial development of developing countries needs to consider what kind of suggestions can be offered to the workers who have a working environment that is not captured by the organizational structure such as a company.


JICA. 2018. Kaizen Handbook. Tokyo: JICA.
Liker, Jeffrey K., 2004. The Toyota Way. New York: McGraw Hill