Using Kaizen to Improve BusinessWhat does “continuous improvement” mean to you? It is often said that the most successful executives and small business owners are the ones who are curious and constantly learning. It can be like a hunger. Even when something is successful, it is not unusual for this person to wonder what really worked and why did it work so well. It often leads to an evolutionary process within the organization.

It is my privilege to facilitate a conversation every week on Twitter that has people who are looking for ideas, inspiration and strategies that will deepen their self-understanding as well as how they perform in their work. This chat is #kaizenblog. The name is a mouthful (and sometimes a tweetful). Amber Cleveland suggested after a chat that we talk about kaizen as a topic.

It made sense to stop and review the concept that underlies every topic we discuss. While our long-time members benefit from a review, it’s also a great way for new members to discover kaizen for themselves. Maybe even imagine how they can explore it more and add it to their own processes at work. For the complete transcript, you can read it here Transcript for #kaizenblog – KaizenAndYourBusiness

The framing post, Could Kaizen Improve You and Your Business, began the conversation with a brief definition and a suggestion regarding how it might be used every day. However, it’s always more interesting to hear how the #kaizenblog community thinks about the topic.  As I tweeted at the beginning of the conversation, this chat uses critical thinking in how we approach our topics. This is one part of kaizen. The hope is that you take the ideas with you and apply to your business.

Joe Sanchez led off the discussion, “Kaizen within the enterprise sounds great but can be challenging to implement b/c resources (ppl and time) are needed. Maintaining and growing an enterprise kaizen initiatives requires seeing biz values from it & recognition for ppl involved.” This led to an interesting side thread about Six Sigma and its comparison to kaizen. But Joe’s point leads to the first discussion question, What role does continuous improvement play in your organization?

  • Patrick Prothe “Continuous improvement is baked into all we do – re-evaluate, measure, recap and move forward.” When asked for examples, “RE: Examples – via our yearly planning, monthly dashboards showing Yr on Yr, recaps of initiatives, continual review”
  • Lois Martin “–Just as you work your abs, ABB — ‘Always Become Later’ “
  • Tanja Ziegel  “Kai=change, Zen=good (for the better) And it needs to be continuous. And it’s a little things that make a big difference.”

The challenge to kaizen is that its focus is holisticSince, Kaizen favors both short-term and long-term thinking, How does the shift from short-term thinking to long-term thinking happen in real life? Judy Gombita shared a story that brings home this balancing act. “My intro to kaizen was a keynote speaker at an @iabc conference. Japanese company was moving into producing bread machines. But first the engineers were sent to work in a bakery, learning how to “feel” and make bread from scratch…”

  • David McGraw “Requires a shift in ones mindset from quick fixes to incremental improvements that build on each other”
  • Parissa Behnia “a2 when it’s obvious youre throwing good money after bad in a bandaid macguyver way”
  • Joe Sanchez “A kaizen initiative can begin w/ an informal Cmty of Practice focusing on a business function or process. Making an informal kaizen grp’s recommendations actionable is when that informal grp may be come formal one. Need 2b prepared.”
  • Patrick Prothe “RE: Q2 – you have to make room for long-term thinking – too easy to focus short term; Must be conscious”

With the side thread comparing Six Sigma and kaizen going on in the background of this chat, I asked, Would you say that kaizen uses a less rigorous process? Would that make it easier to implement?

  • Parissa Behnia “six sigma is too theoretical kaizen seems to be more human real sort of process improvement because it’s okay to be creative”
  • Tanja Ziegel “I think ‘human’ is the key element in kaizen! Remembering that, when all is said and done, you are dealing with PEOPLE”

Despite the ease and attraction kaizen might have for an organization, When would it not be appropriate for an organization to use kaizen?

  • Judy Gombita  “A3. Something that has requirements dictated by a third-party. e.g. audited financial statements. Not really kaizen friendly!”
  • Tanja Ziegel “The first step is looking at your biz, determine what adds value/what does not. I think every biz needs 2 take this step. In order for kaizen to really be most effective, it should be practiced by EVERYONE in the organization”
  • Joe Sanchez “Kaizen can and should b linked to other enterprise disciplines like #riskmgmt. #km, and #changemgmt / #changeldrship

While the practices of kaizen can be modified to fit an organization that may not have complete say over its practices. It became clear in this part of the discussion that a conscious decision and action plan are necessary. Otherwise kaizen will be treated as something that has been imposed on the employees of the organization. In other words, everyone agreeing to use the philosophy and practices of kaizen is crucial.

One of the criticisms of kaizen is that it is a slow process by design. Since long-term goals and incremental learning key pieces of this philosophy, businesses could lose their focus. How could the incremental nature of kaizen allow organizations to slack off?

  • Parissa Behnia “It’s mistaken for business as usual…needs critical eye”
  • Judy Yi “When we ask people to contribute, we need to understand what we are truly asking of them. What do they bring to the table.”

Application of an idea is a key part of the #kaizenblog and it is a hallmark quality that successful professionals are inherently learners. What would happen if you applied more kaizen to your business/work (be as specific as you can)?

  • Patrick Prothe “Since reading Switch, keep coming back to framework (Direct Rider, motivate eleph., shape path) for fueling Kaizen processes”
  • Richard Becker “A5 Applying more kaizen in orgs ensures the succession of proven processes beyond knowledge base of the individual”

Although the topic was about kaizen, this topic seemed to invite people to examine organizational philosophies and how businesses are less reactioary when everyone has agreed to one philosophy. One of the beautiful parts of kaizen is that there isn’t a prescribed way to do it. Simply, how do you examine, discuss and implement processes that support each individual in the organization to be more effective? It could be inspired by a book or a new initiative. It becomes possible to tailor to fit each organization’s style, culture or operating style. What’s evolving in your career and in your organization?

How would you answer the discussion questions?

How do you critique kaizen?