Kaizen 改善

Some time ago I promised to write about various terms which I believe are related to Project Management. Today I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite ones: KAIZEN, the Japanese word for improvement.

I’m not going to write about history, where it comes from, etc. You can check it out on wiki. I’m going to tell you what Kaizen is, why it is working and how it is related to Project Management.

What is KAIZEN? It’s a way of improvement, one little step at a time. The words “little step” is crucial here. Let’s explain it with an example. Please imagine I’m an overweight person who eats a lot and loves junk food (this is not true by the way). I am 1.86cm tall and my weight is 150 kg. As the new year just started my New Year’s resolution is to loose weight. To achieve it, I’m going to stop eating junk food like pizza, French fries, sweet carbonated drinks and I’m going to do sport 3 times a week. Do you think this will work? To be honest, I don’t believe that. Maybe one in a million times there will be a person with such a super strong character, that it will work. Did you read what I just wrote? One in a million! The reason for this is actually pretty simple: your brain is trying to protect you. I’m not a doctor to explain you what exactly happens there, but it’s like (your brain talking): “Oh my God, what is happening, all is so new, this seams dangerous, I need to protect my owner and make him stop before he hurts himself“. Good, but I still want to keep my New Year’s resolution and loose weight. How can I achieve that when my brain doesn’t let me to? Here’s the trick, apply kaizen!

Let’s get back to my NY resolution: stop eating junk food, do sport 3 times a week. Let’s try to do it with kaizen – one little step at a time. As I’m not doing sports at all, jogging would be quite impossible, so maybe first I’m going to walk more. First step is following: every Monday I’m going to the grocery shop on foot instead of by car (I’m assuming the shop is not too far away). I’m going to do that 4 weeks. It’s much easier to implement this, than start doing sport 3 times a week. After 4 weeks, my next goal is to walk to the grocery shop on Monday and Thursday (twice a week). Can you see already were we are going? At some point walking will be not enough and I will be able to start jogging on small distances. Than longer, and longer and so one…

Let’s apply something similar to food. Let’s say I drink tea with 4 tablespoons of sugar (I actually know people who do 6!!!). First thing I’m going to change is make it 3 spoons. Once I get used to the new taste, I’m going down to 2 table spoons, then 1, then maybe half and in the end no sugar. This way I actually managed to drink my coffee without sugar, it really works! Step by step, always a little change. Another example: when you watch movies at night you love to order yourself a huge salami pizza. From now order a medium one. After you’ve got used to it get an even smaller one to maybe come to a point, where you will have a salad from time to time or no eat at nights at all.

Now I used a lot of space to talk about food, sports, self improvement but this is a Project Management blog and the topics are not related. Are you sure? Everyone works in different companies, in different businnesses. If I would have given an example from IT, maybe medics would not understand or the other way around. Food, sports, healthy lifestyle, loosing weight – these are terms most people are familiar with and it’s easier to understand how it works.

At this point I hope you understand what kaizen is and how it works, so let’s apply this to a business example. In Project Management you can apply kaizen to improve quality or processes. This will be an exaggerated example, so it’s easier to follow. As the Project Manager you want your team members to provide you with activity status notes at the end of each day. To be honest I doubt people will just do that. Most of them will just hate you for giving them more work every day, some will do it, some just sometimes and some not at all. Looks familiar? Now what if you ask them to provide you a short activity status note by the end of each week by using one of 3 words (delay, ok, ahead) ? Is that difficult? Is it much work? Is it hard to control such a task? NO. It’s fairly simple and your success rate will be higher. One question I just had in my mind: “Should you tell them, that you plan to come to a point wher tey will prepare a note each day?”. It probably depends, but in this case I would say “YES”. Tell them, be transparent, be honest! But be also honest with yourself, if the notes turn out useless, stop requiring them.

I would really love to read about kaizen examples from different bussinesses. Please share with me successful kaizen stories. I’m also very interested in the not so successful and why did they fail. Or maybe you have ideas on how to apply kaizen in your live or your business. Writing it down could be the first step to actually doing it, what do you thing? Do you kaizen?

See you next time,



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