Literally translating to “good change,” Kaizen is a productivity philosophy that was developed in post-WWII Japanese manufacturing. The process was meant to challenge the status quo by introducing small, continuous improvements.
While other methods of productivity and accountability – like to-do lists and the pomodoro technique – provide a definitive framework for achieving your goals, Kaizen is much more abstract. Instead of step-by-step instructions, it encourages companies to think about and organize their work in a new way, with the end goal of performing better today than you did yesterday. Exactly what those changes will look like depends on your business and its needs, but there are a few constants.
In order to be successful, Kaizen requires full adoption, from the CEO to line workers, but also includes ten guiding principles:
- Let go of assumptions.
- Be proactive about solving problems.
- Don’t accept the status quo.
- Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change.
- Look for solutions as you find mistakes.
- Create an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute.
- Don’t accept the obvious issue; instead, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause.
- Cull information and opinions from multiple people.
- Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements.
- Never stop improving.
Kaizen relies upon constant self-evaluation, and while this might seem daunting at first, the practice can be extremely beneficial. In How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote about a similar strategy in which Saturday evenings were devoted to a review of all of the preceding weeks meetings. During this time he would ask himself:
- “What mistakes did I make this time?”
- “What did I do that was right – and in what way could I have improved my performance?”
- “What lessons can I learn from that experience?”
“This system of self-analysis, self-education, continued year after year, did more for me than any other one thing I have ever attempted,” he wrote. “It helped me improve my ability to make decisions — and it aided me enormously in all my contacts with people. I cannot recommend it too highly.”
By consistently staying in touch with your work and priorities, it is easier to identify potential areas of improvement and to implement and evaluate these small, positive changes.
“Remember that the use of these principles can be made habitual only by a constant and vigorous campaign of review and application. There is no other way.” – Dale Carnegie