Masaaki Imai

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Masaaki Imai (今井 正明, Imai Masaaki, born 1930) is a Japanese organizational theorist and management consultant, known for his work on quality management, specifically on Kaizen.[1][2][3]

Life and work[edit]

Born in Tokyo, Imai obtained his BA from Tokyo University in 1955, where he continued to do graduate work in international relations.[4]

Late-1950s Imai worked for five years in Washington DC at the Japanese Productivity Center, where he was responsible to accompany groups of Japanese businessmen on visits to American plants.[5] In 1962 in Tokyo he founded his own Employment agency for the recruitment of management, executive and research personnel.[4]

In 1986 he founded the Kaizen Institute Consulting Group (KICG) to help western companies to introduce the concepts, systems and tools of Kaizen.[4] In the same year he published, in Japan, the book on business management "Kaizen: Japanese spirit of improvement", which helped popularizing the Kaizen concept in the West.[6]



Kaizen, Japanese for "improvement" or "change for the best", refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management. It has been applied in healthcare,[7] psychotherapy,[8] life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries. Imai (1986) acknowledged that Kaizen starts with detection of needs and problem definition:

The starting point for improvement is to recognize the need. This comes from recognition of a problem. If no problem is recognized, there is no recognition of the need for improvement. Complacency is the archenemy of KAIZEN.[9]

Ishikawa (1985)[10] and Imai (1986) both defined the Seven Basic Tools of Quality. Looking back on the impact of Kaizen, Imai (1997) stated:

'Kaizen' means ongoing improvement involving everybody, without spending much money. When 'Kaizen' was first published here in 1986, many U.S. products were of poor quality, and Japanese-made products were gaining market share. Since then, American companies have made great strides in improving product quality, and much of that is attributable to their implementation of kaizen principles, which incorporate TQM.[4]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Imai, Masaaki. Kaizen: The key to Japan's competitive success. New York, itd: McGraw-Hill (1986).
  • Imai, Masaaki (1997-03-01). Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense, Low-Cost Approach to Management (1e. ed.). McGraw-Hill


  1. ^ Dahan, Ely, and John R. Hauser. "Product development: managing a dispersed process." Handbook of marketing (2002): 179-222.
  2. ^ Paulk, Mark C. "Practices of high maturity organizations." SEPG Conference. 1999.
  3. ^ Monden, Yasuhiro, and Kazuki Hamada. "Target costing and kaizen costing in Japanese automobile companies." Japanese Cost Management. Series on Technology Management 4 (2000).
  4. ^ a b c d "An Interview With Masaaki Imai" in: Quality digest. June 1997
  5. ^ Patrick Graupp, Robert J. Wrona (2006) The TWI Workbook: Essential Skills of Supervisors. p. 3
  6. ^ Mark Graban, Joseph E. Swartz (2012) Healthcare Kaizen: Engaging Front-Line Staff in Sustainable Continuous Improvements. p. 42
  7. ^ Weed, Julie (July 10, 2010). "Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital". The New York Times.
  8. ^ M. M. Feldman (1992). "Audit in psychotherapy: the concept of Kaizen" (PDF). Psychiatric Bulletin. Royal College of Psychiatrists. pp. 334–336.
  9. ^ Masaaki Imai (1986) Kaizen (Ky'zen), the key to Japan's competitive success. p. 9; Cited in: Total quality handbook (1990) p. 32
  10. ^ Ishikawa, Kaoru (1985), What Is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way (1 ed.), Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, p. 198