Reviewing the PMBOK (as you do from time to time) to work out something that came up in process improvement and thought, hey why not do a small post on definitions of terms. If nothing else, it helps me review processes and methods. So what is Kaizen then?
In any project there is of course always room to make small improvements and tune processes and practices on an everyday basis. It is an integral part of Agile and even to a smaller degree, Waterfall approaches. With Agile of course this is usually done constantly and I doubt anyone actually says “continuous improvement” when it is done. It is just a given that you are getting benefits from the intuitive approach to continuous improvement. Over time, all of these incremental changes add up and make a significant positive impact on the project.
One approach to continuous, incremental improvement is called kaizen. It originated in Japan and the word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). Lifted that straight out of the PMBOK. Pretty easy to understand.
Kaizen is based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. Organizations (like Toyota for an easy example) that follow the principle of Kaizen, see a process that can constantly be improved. This means that nothing is ever seen as a status quo – there are continuous efforts to improve which result in small, often imperceptible, changes over time. These incremental changes add up to substantial changes over the longer term, without having to go through any radical innovation.
But there also seems to be a misunderstanding of kaizen, viewing it only as small incremental improvements. Therefore a new term was introduced into the lean vocabulary: kaikaku. While kaizen means change for the better, kaikaku means reform or innovate and has been taken as referring to large change. I read an article about Toyota and the introduction of the Prius and that Toyota would refer to the small changes and the large disruptive changes (like a radical new car) with these distinctions.
So PMBOK review over for today. Not bad for a lazy Sunday work session.