Examines the literature to identify the essential components of kaizen or continuous improvement programmes. Relying on published sources on the North American experience with continuous improvement, also tries to identify organizational structures and practices likely to lead to successful implementation of such programmes. Distinguishes between kaizen and more radical, “strategic leap” improvement approaches, and describes the North American record of success with continuous improvement programmes. An emergent theme is that success with continuous improvement requires a wide array of systems, processes, and orientations to be congruent within the organization. Argues that the study of when, how, and why kaizen succeeds is by no means complete, and proposes a set of open research questions whose investigation is likely to be useful to both scholars and practitioners. Finally, discusses some of the ways in which the existing literature can be immediately useful for practice in organizations.
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