Is it Really KAIZEN?

Is it Really KAIZEN?

 It is interesting reading the various blogs and other media referring to KAIZEN™. In the USA in particular, the term is often used with reference to so-called KAIZEN™ events – when a cross-functional team is brought together for say 3-5 days to try to create immediate improvements.

It grates with me every time I hear the term KAIZEN™ used in this way. The term first arrived in the west courtesy of Masaaki Imai, our chairman at the Kaizen Institute. It refers to "small changes for the better" and equates to continuous improvement in English.

The terms "KAIZEN™ event" and "continuous improvement" are contradictions in terms – KAIZEN™ should be practised by everyone, everywhere, everyday, with many small steps adding up over time to dramatic change.

Basing your KAIZEN™ activities on these events (or blitzes or whatever you want to call them) emphasises fast, large changes. However, likely as not the people involved, let alone the rest of the organisation, will not be focusing on looking for and making improvements everyday – they will wait for the next event before they think of improvements again, hoping they have put the big changes developed in the last event into place by then. As a result the opportunity to drive the culture toward true continuous improvement will likely be missed.

A blitz can work sometimes, but first the organisation needs to have a strong commitment to continuous improvement, a specific problem to be solved, a team with as many of the people likely to be affected by the changes involved as possible and the discipline to use these events sparingly so they don’t become the normal way to do improvement. Only a very few organisations will meet all these criteria.

So what’s it going to be, real KAIZEN™ or lurching from event to event?

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