Kaizen, also known as continuous improvement, is a long-term approach to work that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. Kaizen can be applied to any kind of work, but it is perhaps best known for being used in lean manufacturing and lean programming. If a work environment practices kaizen, continuous improvement is the responsibility of every worker, not just a selected few.
Kaizen can be roughly translated from Japanese to mean "good change." The philosophy behind kaizen is often credited to Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Dr. Deming was invited by Japanese industrial leaders and engineers to help rebuild Japan after World War II. He was honoured for his contributions by Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers.
The Ten Basic Kaizen principles:
- Throw out all your old fixed ideas on how to do things. Start with a clean slate every day, don’t get stuck in your old assumptions
- No blame - treat others as you want to be treated. Encourage and affirm others in the team including yourself.
- Think positive – don’t say can’t. Lean into grace - there is always a way forward.
- Don’t wait for perfection - 50% improvement now is fine. Don’t get stuck waiting for perfection, keep moving forward and over time results will come. A few mistakes show that you are taking risks and that’s okay.
- Correct mistakes as soon as they are found. Be willing to admit mistakes and fix them in a timely way. It keeps your client happy, encourages feedback and makes a better product.
- Don’t substitute money for thinking - Creativity before Capital. When you have money you may not be more creative. Don’t lose the fun of problem solving without resources.
- Keep asking "why?" until you get to the root cause. Don’t settle for overly simplistic solutions, and end up treating the fruit instead of the root.
- Better the wisdom of 5 people than the expertise of 1. Group wisdom will see through the simplistic answers - you can’t beat the wisdom of experience.
- Base decisions on data not opinions - make sure you have real evidence not just hearsay or guesses - check out your hunches and feelings against reality.
- Improvement is not made from a conference room! - Be out there among the people - staff and clients asking them where improvement can be made. Test theory in the real world.