Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Is Kaizen enough?

Image result for improving candles bulb billboard
This image started going around on Tweeter a couple of weeks ago and a lot of Agile jokes were fuelled. While I do like jokes and sometimes I am the one that questions the value of the small incremental improvements (versus the effort), I found this to trigger me to write about it.
The Continuous Improvement is very often associated with words like "Incremental Improvement", "Small improvements" or if you want to look like you are paid a lot per hour, you use the Japanese word "Kaizen". Kaizen is about  EVOLUTIONARY improvements, things we do to evolve within a relatively narrow focus. Very often tho', Kaizen can take you up to a point and after that you feel stuck. Examples of that can be using a certain technology and then get stuck on scaling possibilities. Or using a framework/methodology/process  and get stuck when business rules change.
So what do we do when Kaizen is not bringing anymore the improvement we need?
This concept is known as "Radical Improvement" or Kaikaku. Kaikaku is a breakthrough, is a big change and it is done in addition to Kaizen, not to replace Kaizen. This is what we do when we see that small improvements do not take us further, do not allow us to scale, do not let our business grow capabilities. Kaikaku example are changing a framework/methodology/process to another one that brings more advantages to business and clients. Kaikaku is changing completely the technical platform you run your applications so that you can have more functionality in place.
Once a Kaikaku happens, then Kaizen continues with incremental improvements on making this change efficient, valuable and useful so that we reap the most out of this new thing we brought in place.

I find this topic very close to my heart because, as an Agile coach, I am usually brought into an organization after a Kaikaku has happened. The organization has started a Revolution to implement Agile mindset, practices and techniques. After that, as a coach, my only tool in hand is Kaizen: small improvements to make Agile mindset the normal thing. Just like with any Revolution, a lot of things are broken around, a lot of people are divided and feel unsecure.  It takes time to mend all of these, it takes time to get to a place where people have things in hands and feel in control of what they are doing. It takes a lot of Kaizen to get to a better place. A Kaikaku is not usually something to bring, because a revolution can't be followed with another revolution. It will only destroy the organization.
So while Agile does talk more about Kaizen, I like to bring Kaikaku in the picture here and there, just so we do not forget the options we have in hand.  We can always chose what we want, a Kaizen or a Kaikaku. But we always need to be aware of the consequences they bring.

No comments:

Post a Comment