Kaizen and Six Sigma are both management philosophies focused on continuous improvement. Both philosophies try to increase the efficiency of a business process by eliminating waste and reducing defects.
Kaizen is an ancient Japanese philosophy that strives to continually improve all aspects of a person’s life; the Japanese workforce first used it in business shortly after World War II. Six Sigma was first implemented in 1986 by Bill Smith at Motorola.
Kaizen looks to improve all aspects of a business through standardizing processes, increasing efficiency and eliminating waste. Six Sigma focuses more on improving the quality of the final product by finding and eliminating causes of defects, whether by variances in the business process or in manufacturing.
Kaizen focuses on improvement, looking at every employee from top management to entry level positions. Sigma is a mathematical term that measures a process’ deviation from perfection.
Six Sigma uses more statistical analysis than Kaizen; Six Sigma aims for as close to zero defects as possible, calling for a maximum of 3.4 defects for every million opportunities, which creates a 99.9997 percent success rate.
Six Sigma and Kaizen help save money for companies; Motorola has reported saving $17 billion since 2006 because of Six Sigma. More than half of the Fortune 500 companies use Six Sigma, including General Electric and Honeywell. Toyota and Canon both reported saving money and increasing efficiency by using Kaizen.