Kaizen strategy and the drive
for competitiveness: challenges
Sami Al Smadi
University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to revisit the Japanese model of continuous improvement
(Kaizen) in order to evaluate its contribution to competitiveness in organizations and also recommend
possible future research directions.
Design/methodology/approach – This is a conceptual paper, and secondary databased. The paper
examines a vast body of research, which looked at the model from different perspectives, and critically
explores its potential beneﬁts and drawbacks in organizations.
Findings – The paper concludes that, if properly implemented, Kaizen model can substantially
contribute to continuous improvement and, thus, drive organizations for high competitiveness without
a need for major investment.
Practical implications – The ﬁndings suggest that the implementation of Kaizen calls for a
development of a suitable culture within an organization that encourages creativity and promotes the
theme of never settling on a status quo.
Originality/value – This paper shows that success of Kaizen model is not always guaranteed,
as work environment and organizational culture can be the important variables in its implementation.
Keywords Continuous improvement, Competitive strategy, Organizational effectiveness
Paper type Conceptual paper
Japan’s management philosophy has introduced a new creative strategy for
competitive success in business, or the so-called “Kaizen” model. When Masaaki
Imai published his ﬁrst book in 1986, The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, the term
Kaizen began to receive attention from management experts and scholars around the
world. Kaizen is a Japanese word, which means “continuous improvement” (Manos,
2007). In the broader sense, Imai (1986) deﬁned Kaizen as “the process of continuous
improvement in any arena of life, personal, social, home, or work.” In business,
he deﬁned it as “the process of gradual and incremental improvement in a pursuit of
perfection of business activities.” Under this strategy, continuous improvement is
considered to be everybody’s job in an organization, in that any employee must do
his/her job and improve it (Channon, 2005).
A decade after publishing his ﬁrst book, Imai revisited Kaizen in another book in
1997 – a contribution which further enhanced Kaizen strategy “the Japanese way”
by stressing the importance of the workplace (where real action occurs) in continuous
improvement. According to Kaizen, not a single day should go by without some kind of
improvement being made somewhere in an organization. Even “total quality
management,” which has received focused attention in the literature in recent years,
was found deeply rooted in the Japanese management, and thus viewed as an integral
element in Kaizen strategy.
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and the drive for
Competitiveness Review: An
International Business Journal
Vol. 19 No. 3, 2009
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited