By Jon Miller | Post Date: January 4, 2008 12:14 AM | Comments: 7
Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning "to change and make good," embodying both the philosophy an the practice of continuous improvement in business as well as personal life. We are often asked about the "right" way to do kaizen. The quotation marks exist to point out the irony that doing kaizen implies that there is no single right way but only a better way. Giving such an answer is not the easiest way to sell consulting services, but it is the most practical way to do kaizen.
These questions about the right way to do kaizen are along the lines of "How many events per month?" or "How many ideas per person per month?" or "How many people on a kaizen team?" or "How much money will we save how fast?" People in in search of step-by-step approach to implementing lean manufacturing / lean office / lean healthcare through kaizen tend to ask these questions. People (consultants) in search of sales of lean manufacturing implementations make up answers to these questions. Sometimes they are right.
While it is a great thing that people want to do kaizen and do it properly, I think questions such as these somewhat miss the point. The question people should ask is "What is the appropriate cadence of kaizen for our organization?" Cadence is hard to describe in terms of kaizen, but it seems to fit the cyclical nature of continuous improvement. Cadence is word that may not come up in everyday conversation unless you are a musician or involved in one of the other professions or pastimes below. Let's briefly explore definitions of the word 'cadence.'
- In music, cadence is the rhythm, the measure or the beat of sound. In Western music theory a cadence is a particular series of intervals or chords that ends a phrase, section, or piece of music.
- In horse training, cadence is the result of correct training that a horse demonstrates when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion, balanced and rhythmic strides.
- In military terms, cadence is a uniform rhythm or number of steps or counts per minute for performing drills or marches.
- In rowing, cadence is the beat that the oarsmen row. A coxswain may rap out the cadence to keep the oarsmen pulling in unison.
- In cycling, cadence is the rate of pedaling in crank revolutions per minute.
Which of these definitions of cadence ring out with relevance to you in terms of kaizen I fancy myself a bit of a kaizen expert, but not a cadence expert. I looked these definitions up. Cadence is similar but different from the TPS notion of takt time in that cadence does not imply any customer-driven pace. In all of these definitions cadence seems to imply a graceful or natural rhythm or regularity of action. Cadence is not forced, and neither should kaizen be.
Continuous improvement by definition requires sustainability. Natural systems tend to self-correct and sustain themselves, even if the individual parts of the system change or are replaced. Kaizen should allow for this sort of self-correction and learning, rather than a rigid scrip or single "right" way. Kaizen should feel natural, and be the closing of a 'musical phrase' or a series of fact-finding and root cause analysis activities.
We should ask ourselves "What is the appropriate cadence of kaizen for our organization?" and seek to sustain the cadence once we have found it. Just as we can tell when a piece of music, a military march, or a trotting horse has poor cadence, we should be able to sense the cadence of kaizen. You know you are doing kaizen right when you make an improvement and come full circle, ask "What is the next kaizen?" and everyone keeps pulling in unison.Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.