Kaizen

We’ll be discussing kaizen a lot in this blog… I even created a category specifically for it. So I figured I’d take a few minutes to define what kaizen is and tell you my take on it. Let’s start with a translation… Kaizen is Japanese for “good change.”

= kai = change
= zen = good (for the better)

Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy. Even though the literal translation is good change, it has become more popularly known by the philosophical definition, continual improvement. Or, as Tony Robbins says, “Constant And Never-ending Improvement” or simply CANI. Essentially it is daily changes (regardless of how small) that make regular improvements in your life.

Masaaki Imai made the term, kaizen, famous in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. Over time, “good change” became “improvement”, or “change for the better.” It refers to a philosophy and/or practice that focuses on continuous improvement of business processes. That definition has morphed into the present day translation of improvement in business or on a personal level.

William Edwards Deming helped popularize the idea of kaizen when he introduced PDCA (plan–do–check–act or plan–do–check–adjust) to the Japanese businesses after Word War II. PDCA is an iterative four-step method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products. PDCA is also known as the Deming circle/cycle/wheel.

The steps in a PDCA cycle are:
PLAN
The word plan really doesn’t need a definition, but we’ll tackle it anyway… Use this stage to establish the objectives and create your desired result or output (the target or goals). By establishing realistic output expectations, the improvement is easily tracked and managed. When possible, start small with your objectives.

DO
Pretty straight forward… Implement the plan, execute the process, make the product. Collect data for charting and analysis in the following “CHECK” and “ACT” steps.

CHECK
Review the actual results (measured and collected in “DO” above) and compare against the expected results (targets or goals from the “PLAN”) to find any differences. Look for deviation in implementation from the “PLAN” and also look for the execution, i.e., “DO”. Charting data can make this considerably easier to unveil trends over several PDCA cycles and in order to convert the data into information. Information is what you need for the next step “ACT”.

ACT
Request corrective actions on significant differences between actual and planned results. Act is sometimes called “Adjust” by modern trainers. Determine where to apply changes to ensure improvement of the process or product. Stephen R. Covey called this stage, “Sharpen the Saw” in his Seven Habits book.

What do you think about kaizen? And, do you strive on a daily basis to improve yourself in some form or fashion?

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