kaizen and change

My coworker gave a brief, but inspiring talk yesterday about kaizen. He brought up the wikipedia definition of the word, which focuses on the business meaning and primarily efficiency. Then he talked about what it means to him.

Kaizen is often heard in the same sentence with “continuous improvement.” I’ve heard it so often that I usually block it out as management-weasel speak. But I like the idea behind it – small, incremental changes that eventually add up to revolutions in efficiency.

Change, though, doesn’t happen without people. The people are the most important piece in all of this, and they are not interchangable. You can cross train and hire, but you will always get better results with a well-trained and actively thinking group.

Bottom line: kaizen is equally about the goal – efficiency – and the process to get there, which he called respect. That’s what my coworker said that inspired me yesterday.

I think the art in kaizen is how you actually get people to change. There are ready-made processes that you can apply – six sigma, five whys, pareto charts. But you can’t just put a stack of forms in front of a person and expect them to change the way that they think. You have to show people how the new way is better through experience, and, perhaps more importantly, how the new way benefits them.

In a way, I see that as internal marketing – but the best kind. It’s marketing based on truth and facts. And, in the process, you give people get something that they wanted anyway: respect.

I spent the last couple of days chewing on that, and I tried to shoe-horn kaizen into an article I’m writing about women in open source. I ended up not including it. My hope is that I communicated the essence of that idea about change, even if I didn’t say it in so many words.