What do daily kaizen, PDCA and standard work have in common?

by Hannah Bachelder, Lean Specialist in Jail Health Services

kaizen pdca


The term kaizen is derived from two Japanese characters; kai, meaning “change” and zen meaning “good.” Change for the better is the goal of kaizen.

Kaizen encourages and engages employees at all levels of an organization to work together to achieve regular, incremental improvements to processes by eliminating waste in the value stream.

Kaizen is part action and part philosophy:

•  As an action, kaizen is about testing small and focused improvement in specific areas within an organization. These improvements can include teams of employees at all levels, or individuals who are empowered to create improvements.

•  As a philosophy, kaizen is about building a culture where all employees are actively engaged in suggesting and implementing improvements to the organization. In lean organizations, it becomes a natural way of thinking for both managers and front line employees.

The key success factor for both action and philosophy is ensuring the people who do the work are improving the work. Daily kaizen is considered everyone’s job—it’s part of their daily work.

twain ci

Starting in January at King County Correctional Facilicy and at Kent Regional Justice Center, two teams have volunteered to test out the daily kaizen tool. The process they will follow will look like the following:

1.  Identify an opportunity for improvement.

2.  Review the current state and develop a plan for improvements.

3.  Test the improvements.

4.  Report results and determine any follow-up items.

5.  Standardize where needed.

Through improvement comes standard work. This standard work helps to capture the current best practice for a process or job. Likewise, through standard work come opportunities for improvement. Standard work, once developed, is never “done,” it remains a living, breathing document because improvement never ends.

Standard work is developed and improved through both kaizen and the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) process. PDCA is the scientific approach to making improvements. It follows a very similar approach to daily kaizen improvements in the following steps:

  • Plan – Identify the problem you are trying to solve and create a hypothesis.


  • Do – Generate possible solutions and run an experiment.


  • Check – Understand and evaluate the results, has the problem improved? Does it need to be implemented or tested further?


  • Adjust – Making appropriate adjustments and the new standard work official, or starting PDCA all over again to test a different improvement.


—So what do daily kaizen, PDCA, and standard work have in common? Within a lean culture you cannot have one of these without the others.

Kaizen is the philosophy that helps develop the improvement thinking for daily improvement ideas, and power to test small changes. PDCA is a tool that provides a scientific approach for problem solving, and testing/implementing potential solutions. Standard work becomes the benchmark for all processes and jobs from which improvement is developed.

These activities help develop a strong culture of improvement, and give employees at all levels the tools to approach problem solving in a thoughtful and consistent manner.

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