If you work in project management, or with project managers, then “kanban” is a word you have probably heard before. Maybe you even know what the kanban methodology is, but do you know what the kaizen philosophy is and what the relationship between the two is? The kaizen philosophy is the way of thinking behind the kanban methodology and provides the core principles of kanban. To understand the relationship between the two, it’s important to know where kaizen comes from and what it means.
What Is the Kaizen Philosophy?
Kaizen is a Japanese word that roughly translates to “change” for the “good” or “better”. In other words: improvement. It is a philosophy based around the concept that we should be constantly implementing minor changes in our lives and activities to continuously improve the way we do things.
The kaizen philosophy was first implemented by Japanese businesses after WWII as a method of eliminating waste as part of lean manufacturing. The first Japanese businesses to apply the kaizen philosophy to their manufacturing processes embraced the idea that in order to compete in the global market, especially with Western competitors, they needed to constantly strive to do things better at all levels of their organizations. The most notable business to employ the kaizen philosophy to this day is Toyota.
Kaizen does not inherently have to be a business philosophy, and in fact can be applied to all areas of life. The foundational principle of kaizen is that everything can, and should be, constantly improved. The kaizen philosophy has been applied to areas outside of business such as life-coaching, healthcare, government, and psychotherapy.
Understanding the Kaizen Philosophy in Business
Businesses that adhere to the kaizen philosophy look at the processes at all levels of the organization and see areas for improvement, rather than just accepting things as they are, even when things are running smoothly. They key to kaizen is that changes are not big and radical, but rather small, sometimes barely noticeable, changes that occur over time and when added up equal improvement.
Kaizen philosophy emphasizes that changes and suggestions for improvement must come from all levels within an organization, not just from management or senior leaders. In businesses that follow the Kaizen philosophy, all members of the organization are responsible for identifying inefficiencies and suggesting ways to increase productivity, improve effectiveness, and reduce waste.
Since kaizen was first used as a philosophy in the manufacturing industry, reducing waste is one of the most important ways that it applies to business. If you look at the success of the Japanese automobile industry today, you can see how the kaizen philosophy has led to high quality at low costs, which is due in part to the reduction of waste in the manufacturing process.
The kaizen philosophy practice of reducing waste can be applied to other kinds of waste in businesses outside of the manufacturing industry. Not all businesses have the same kinds of material waste that a factory does, but all have some kind of waste. For example, time is a resource that can be wasted in all types of businesses. The kaizen philosophy can be applied as a time management tool to reduce wasted time and improve productivity in all areas of business and life.
5 Key Points of Kaizen Philosophy in Business
- Every process, practice, and activity can be improved.
- Implements small changes over time for continuous improvement.
- Changes and improvements come from all levels of a business.
- Everyone is responsible for identifying inefficiencies.
- Aims to constantly reduce waste and increase productivity.
How Does the Kaizen Philosophy Relate to the Kanban Methodology?
Since the kaizen philosophy is a way of thinking, there are various tools and methods that can be used to help you implement kaizen in life or business. The kanban methodology is one of these methods that is especially tied to and goes hand-in-hand with the kaizen philosophy. Kanban is a project management methodology that was developed in Japan, at Toyota in fact, during the same time as the kaizen philosophy was gaining prominence in the manufacturing industry.
The kanban methodology, or kanban board, is a project management tool that uses columns to represent the various stages of workflow. Cards, called kanban cards, representing tasks and work are moved through the columns to show what stage they are at in the workflow. The kanban board is then used to identify inefficiencies, such as bottlenecks, in work processes in order to implement and test changes to improve efficiency and reduce waste.
A kanban board serves the dual purpose of tracking and monitoring a project’s progress, as well as identifying areas for improvement within an organization. As you can see, the kanban methodology and kaizen philosophy are directly connected. To put it simply, the kaizen philosophy is the broader way of thinking behind the kanban methodology, whereas a kanban board is an actual way to implement kaizen philosophy in the workplace.
Though kaizen and kanban both have their roots in the automotive manufacturing industry, they have gained prominence in recent years in the software and technology development industries as part of Lean and Agile development practices. Teams who employ lean and agile project management techniques can benefit greatly from adhering to the kaizen philosophy and using a kanban board as a project management tool.
3 Examples of Companies Using the Kaizen Philosophy
- Toyota includes the kaizen philosophy as part of The Toyota Way; the set of principles, values, and ideals that guide it’s manufacturing and business practices. The main principles of The Toyota Way are continuous improvement and respect for people.
- Google used to have a policy that employees should spend 80% of their time doing their actual job, and 20% of their time looking for ways to improve the way they work. When you invest time in improving the way you work, you actually get that time back down the road by reducing waste.
- The Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit medical practice and medical research group, uses the Kaizen philosophy to improve medical practices. Healthcare is a complex industry that has a lot of areas which can be improved using the kaizen philosophy. The Mayo Clinic has used the philosophy to reduce patient wait times, improve methods, and use resources more efficiently.
Relationship Between Kaizen and Kanban Summed Up
Kaizen is a philosophy that everyone can apply to both their personal and work lives. When a business employs the kaizen principle of continuous improvement, everyone benefits at all levels of the organization. The kanban methodology is a project management methodology that can be used to actually implement the kaizen philosophy in the workplace to identify inefficiencies and improve processes over time. If you take away one thing from this reading, let it be this: small, daily changes are the key to continuous improvement!