When Kaizen business philosopher Masaaki Imai toured Petro, JTI’s biggest production plant, near St Petersburg, he left a lasting impression.

Masaaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen philosophy, visited Petro during a lecture tour that included Moscow’s High School of Economics and St Petersburg State University in 2011. Given JTI’s drive to optimize efficiency, he was invited to speak to shop-floor employees about manufacturing procedures and in-house safety.

Kaizen is an approach to lean production developed by Imai-san in the 1950s. It evolved from a trip he made to the USA to study manufacturing models of efficiency, which had led to economic success. He used these findings to develop his own workplace system.

Masaaki Imai’s Kaizen philosophy

Kaizen stands for ‘continuous improvement’. It comes from the Japanese words "kai" which means ‘change’ or ‘to correct’ and ‘zen’ which means ‘good’. Behind it is the idea that every employee, at every level, is encouraged to come up with small improvement suggestions on a regular basis. This is not a ‘once-a-month’ or ‘once-a-year’ activity, but is ongoing.

Massaki Imai

"Kaizen is about applying incremental, common-sense improvements to any business process. However, developing these depends on challenging the ways we tend to think"

Massaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen philosophy

The 5Ss of Kaizen, and the 3Rs of JTI

5S is a philosophy for organizing and managing the workspace and workflow. It simplifies an organization’s work environment, reduces waste and non-value activity while improving quality efficiency and safety. The 5Ss are based on five Japanese words that begin with the letter S (Seiri, Seiton, Seisou, Seiketsu and Shitsuke) which have been translated into English by Masaaki Imai as Sort, Straighten, Scrub, Standardize and Sustain.

The JT Group has added 3Rs (‘Right object’, ‘Right position’, and ‘Right quantity’) to the 5Ss to further improve the effectiveness of this methodology. Although more commonly associated with production facilities, office staff are also discovering the benefits. The renamed 5S3R has proved to be a big success in JTI factories. By putting 5S3R into action it’s estimated average office employees can regain a week of valuable time from their busy year.

Kaizen’s impact on Petro

The Petro facility employs around 1,400 people and its high-speed lines produce up to 20,000 cigarettes a minute.

Kaizen philosophy recognizes that the potential to build a better workplace lies within us all. Imai-san gave JTI managers a number of practical examples that they could adopt to encourage employees to suggest improvements. These included creating a suggestion box and asking workers to come up with one idea per year, using “visual management” to get employees thinking and sharing business plans that relate to performance or trigger creative input.

Key workplace commandments

Masaaki Imai discussed further ways that managers can help inspire a spirit of collaboration and inclusivity. For example he used the expression: “Go to Gemba, it’s the best teacher”. ‘Gemba’ – the production line – is central to a company’s manufacturing success and its processes are fundamental to continuous improvement. Normally in business, proposals typically filter down from the top. But the Kaizen philosophy stresses that employees need to feel that they are connected and that their contribution is valued. Imai-san believes that managers need to spend more time on the shop-floor to get an intimate understanding of how each process works.

Kaizen means to employ the minimum resources for the maximum benefits. This is in contrast to most traditional companies who employ maximum resources for the minimum benefits. This is also the case in the tobacco industry. Kaizen leads to lean, and lean leads to ecology, where the use of resources is minimized. This is one of the most urgent tasks for mankind.


1. Seiri (Sort)
In the first stage, everything found at the workplace is subjected to critical examination. Unnecessary and obsolete things (working materials, tools, documents, devices etc.) are sorted out. They are dumped in the rubbish, placed in the archives or sent for recycling.

2. Seiton (Straighten)
The remaining working and auxiliary materials are then arranged in a clearly ordered and ergonomic manner.

3. Seisou (Scrub)
Responsibility for cleanliness in the workplace is defined and openly agreed on-the-spot. All staff are included in this process.

4. Seiketsu (Standardize)
Every work task is standardized, designated and responsibilities shared. Rules and standards are vital to the permanent existence of orderliness, cleanliness and improvements. Standards also relate to safety, like the wearing of protective clothing. A standard serves the purpose of doing something in the best, simplest and safest manner.

5. Shitsuke (Sustain)
Standards must be maintained and regularly reviewed, with encouragement from managers. Self-discipline is a crucial factor in the Kaizen philosophy. The focus of all staff should be centered on the permanent improvement of the working environment.

1. Right object
2. Right position
3. Right quantity

What do these words mean to us?


The number of employees at the Petro facility

5 S

Sort, Straighten, Scrub, Standardize and Sustain