The story of Kaizen and Lean thinking began in the early 1900s in Japan with the Toyoda family business, the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which developed a key business principle known as jidoka. Jidoka loosely translates as automation with a human touch and involves building in quality as you produce goods and deliver service. Jidoka focuses on enhancing human beings’ ability to perform value-adding work, which creates a more humane and positive workplace. Working by trial and error and getting your hands dirty was another important Toyoda family principle. Before you can truly understand a situation or problem, you must go to the area in which the work is being done (gemba) and see it for yourself.

In 1930, the Toyoda family established the Toyota Motor Company, which integrated a second key business concept: just-in-time (JIT), producing goods and providing services only when needed and only in the quantity needed. Toyota adapted the continuous flow manufacturing (also known as Total Flow Management / TFM) methodology developed at Ford Motor Company and the pull concept (producing to replenish only what has been consumed) used by U.S. supermarkets to maintain low inventories while consistently meeting customer demand. The two principles of flow and pull were essential to the early success of Toyota, steering them past the wasteful pitfalls of a mass production push system that results in overproduction and high inventories. The concepts of jidoka and Just-in-time form the two pillars of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

After WWII, W. Edwards Deming, the American statistician who developed the concept of Total Quality Management (TQM), began teaching his philosophy in Japan and Joseph Juran began working directly with Toyota. Influenced by Deming and Juran, Taiichi Ohno led Toyota’s philosophical development. Toyota also adopted the scientific approach for problem solving that Deming adapted from Walter Shewhart’s work, commonly referred to as the Deming Cycle or Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), and the WWII training program from the United States, Training Within Industry (TWI). These elements formed the basis for the Kaizen revolution of democracizing Japanese management and empowering the workforce to continuously identify, design, and implement improvements, no matter how small or large.

By consistently producing high-quality and reasonably priced products, Toyota accelerated its market share gains through the 1980s to their preeminent position today. The book The Machine that Changed the World (Womack, Jones, Roos, 1990) revealed Toyota’s successes and introduced the Toyota Production System (TPS) to the manufacturing world. The authors contrasted the two production paradigms—batch (mass) production versus continuous flow—and identified TPS as a state-of-the-art business management approach for manu- facturing and service delivery.

James Womack and Daniel Jones further developed the lean paradigm in their book Lean Thinking (1996), which identified five major lean principles: value, value stream, pull, flow, and perfection.

Kaizen and Lean thinking has spread to many countries in world. Kaizen is word more commonly used in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Dubai, where is Lean Management / Lean manufacturing is used more in Europe and Americas. RIB Consulting has been helping organisation in Kenya, India, Uganda, Dubai, Zambia and Russia to implement Kaizen and Lean thinking the way it was developed.