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Competitive Change with the Three K’s

  • Dave Turbide

Twenty years ago, I had an opportunity to tour a number of factories in Japan. I still remember being impressed by seeing kaizen in action. According to the APICS Dictionary, kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement. More specifically, the term refers to continuing improvement involving employees in all areas and levels of the business. At the plants I visited, it seemed that everyone was involved in finding ways to improve productivity, safety and performance. In fact, the cultures of these companies were clearly built around this concept, with workers encouraged and empowered to make small improvements each day.

Kaizen has been adopted by manufacturers around the globe, usually as part of a lean manufacturing initiative. Typical kaizen activities include

  • rearrangement of tooling and equipment for better access, greater convenience or less physical strain
  • implementing the five Ss improvement methodology to clean and organize a work area
  • suggesting changes in a process step to improve workflow.

However, today’s companies cannot solely rely on small, incremental improvements. Sometimes, big changes are needed to keep pace with emerging technologies, new competitors and radical market swings. To complete their journeys to competitive success, manufacturers need to embrace two more K’s: kaikaku and kakushin.


Let’s say a company develops a new process, installs robotic equipment to automate an activity or makes a change to a product that affects its manufacturing. These are sizable shifts that likely will require substantial adjustments to equipment, processes and company culture in a relatively short period of time. This is where kaikaku — which means radical or revolutionary change — comes in.

Although minor modifications can be driven by support staff, more sweeping changes require the input and oversight of top management, with other personnel actively helping to define and implement the modifications. These changes don’t need to be totally innovative; rather, they can be applications of existing and proven techniques and technology. Kaikaku requires funding and project management to complete a specific, defined improvement project. In addition, kaikaku projects have a defined schedule, including a definite start and end, whereas kaizen is a continuing part of the culture and tasking.

Typical kaikaku activities involve

  • installing a new machine
  • redesigning an entire production line
  • introducing a new process or material
  • reconfiguring a part of the plant to produce a new product or manufacture an existing product in a new way.


To complete the picture, let’s take a look at kakushin — the Japanese term for innovation. Technology is evolving so rapidly these days that innovation in the forms of new processes, approaches to manufacturing, materials and equipment is a must for many manufacturers. Kakushin drives such changes through new ideas and tools.

Typical kakushin activities involve

  • a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions
  • breakthrough ideas, products or services
  • renewed ways of thinking that lead to transformation, reform or renewal.

The trinity

Although incremental change is vital, it is insufficient to ensure competitiveness in today’s fast-changing world. Grander changes and ongoing innovation are essential to staying up-to-date with technology, markets, and ever-shifting customer needs and preferences. All three of these concepts combine in a coordinated effort to improve products and processes and, in turn, help a company grow, stay competitive and succeed.

Dave Turbide, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, CMfgE, is a New Hampshire-based independent consultant and freelance writer and president of the APICS Granite State Chapter. He also is a Certified in Production and Inventory Management and Certified Supply Chain Professional master instructor and The Fresh Connection trainer. Turbide may be contacted at


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