Kaizen: The art of constant improvement

One of my first “official” jobs that I had was working in a Japanese company and it was one of the most exciting learning experiences that I have had in my entire career. Through my exposure to different projects and initiatives, I started learning more about the Japanese culture and working methods and since then, I have always tried to implement these best practices in my projects where applicable. I wanted to spend a few blogs talking about the different processes that have made the most impact on me as a Project Manager but more importantly, have given the most added value to my projects.

One of the first initiatives that I was a part of was “Kaizen” and the art of constant improvement. In this case, it was a project started within all of the departments to improve the established working processes that existed. There were members from across the organisation and from every level in the hierarchy.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is the concept of “continual improvement” of all functions from the CEO to the most junior worker. It originally comes from the Japanese word for “change for better”. By improving the working processes, it works to try and eliminate all waste. It was first used in Manufacturing after the Second World War in Japan but has since been used in a lot of different industries and companies across the world.

How does it work?

Kaizen can be implemented in a lot of different ways. I have seen it used with process improvement groups as well as individual initiatives. There are some core key components within Kaizen which include:

  • Improving personal morale
  • Distinguishing between innovation (which is considered radical) and Kaizen (continuous improvement)
  • Teamwork
  • Personal discipline
  • Quality feedback loops (see below for an example).

In Project Management, we can closely align this to: Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Plan, Do, Check, Act.

How do you use it on a daily basis?

Kaizen is not just a process, it’s a mindset. It’s thinking about how you can improve what you’re currently doing to make the overall process better. This requires you to not think as a “jobsbody” but thinking about the best for the entire process and organisation.

Within your projects and organisations you can do the following to encourage and incorporate a Kaizen mindset:

  • Encouraging feedback loops (e.g. through regular retrospectives or targeted meetings on the topic)
  • Supporting self determination and ownership of tasks/processes
  • Allowing team members to own particular processes/

Why is Kaizen worth doing?

I found that when team members started thinking in a Kaizen mindset, there was a change in their entire viewpoint, moving from an insular project mode to a “eyes wide open” organisation mode. It also helped to remove the “Them and us” mentality and moving towards a greater organisational goal/strategy.

I’ve also found Kaizen helpful in encouraging people to think more about “constant improvement” that we can also do in our own projects/areas and looking at the best practices.

Do you use Kaizen in your projects? What’s your best practices? Let’s chat below!