Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kaizen Events vs Continuous Daily Improvement

By Al Norval

I’ve run across several organizations recently that seem mired in the belief that kaizen is all about weeklong events. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These organizations describe situations where they have a problem that isn’t big enough for a weeklong event so they are forced to add other items to it to make the problem larger enough just to use their kaizen process. Now give them credit, they are following their standard process but if we apply PDCA Thinking to this, we realize that if the standard is inadequate, we adjust the standard.

Problems come in all sizes and shapes. Some are large and messy and others are smaller and straight forward. In all these cases, the most important thing is to use a formal problems solving approach that embodies the Scientific Method. Why? Using the scientific method we set up experiments that are binary. They work or they don’t but in either case we learn from them and we learn from both our successes and our failures.

Because problems come in different shapes and sizes, kaizen needs to be able to handle both large problems as well as small ones.

What is kaizen?

There are many definitions that include “continuous improvement” and “change for the better” but I like to think of it as:

an orderly, incremental, relentless process of continuous improvement” which was best captured in a quote:

every day a little bit higher” by Taiichi Ohno.

Kaizen needs to embody the scientific method of problem solving which makes it an orderly, repeatable process. It also needs to be able to solve problems both large and small so we can use it for daily continuous improvement as well as for bigger problems both of which lead to incremental gains. Make no mistake; many small daily improvements often lead to larger gains than a few big ones because of the ability of small improvements to compound and to involve the people who do the work in actually improving the work as the problems occur.

In the end it’s all kaizen and we need both, kaizen events supported by daily kaizen. Together they give an organization the ability to have relentless continuous improvement.


Alistair Norval

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