In an economy where firms compete for limited resources, focusing internally to boost efficiency and reduce waste is critical. In particular, the kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement in small sustainable increments has spread in the manufacturing industry with mixed results. However, the knowledge management requirements of kaizen have not yet been formalized for practitioners to easily check the necessary pre‐conditions of their organization. The objective of this paper is to explore the successful implementation of kaizen in terms of its organizational design and knowledge management preconditions.
Using a case‐study approach building on previous in‐depth research of New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) in Fremont, California, this study assesses the organizational and knowledge preconditions of kaizen.
The results show that the success of NUMMI may reside as much in Toyota's production system as in the alignment of kaizen and the organizational characteristics that support suitable knowledge management practices.
The findings highlight the need for practitioners who plan to implement kaizen to review their firm's organizational characteristics and knowledge management practices and ensure their congruence with the requirements of kaizen.
The paper shows how kaizen cannot be reduced to an add‐on grafted onto existing processes and aimed at temporarily fixing the bottom line. Instead, kaizen is deeply rooted in, and therefore strongly dependent on, the processes it intends to improve.
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