Kaizen--a concept that focuses on constant, inclusive, and involving improvement--may well be a key element in the post-WW II success of Japan Inc. For sure, however, it's a mainstay of the Tokyo-based author's international consulting business. Self-interest apart, Imai provides detailed guidance on adopting its principles to obtain incremental gains in the quality of delivered goods and/or services. In common with the workaday measures reviewed by Richard Schonberger in World Class Manufacturing (p. 852), kaizen has mainly to do with reducing waste as well as lead times to practical minimums and maximizing flexibility while making quality control an integral part of the overall program. The process-oriented system thus demands a top-to-bottom organizational commitment. Consequently, engineering, shipping, and related departments must work toward meeting the needs of end users rather than simply making things easy on themselves. The author offers a wealth of case studies documenting the ways in which kaizen can pay off over time; he also probes a couple of noteworthy failures. Owing to poor communications, for example. Japanese National Railways came a cropper on a 1970's campaign to upgrade operating efficiency. Despite having spent some time in Washington during the 1950's, Imai soft-pedals the cultural differences between his homeland (where labor/management relations tend to be cooperative rather than adversarial) and the US. Among other things, he plays down the fact that kaizen has aspects of ritual (e.g., in the reporting requirements imposed on quality circles) which could prove alien to individualistic American managers and their subordinates. As much a philosophy as a procedural discipline, kaizen holds some theoretical and practical interest for western executives, Imai's text, which includes flow charts, worksheets, checklists, and a glossary, provides an accessible introduction.