Project Management

Kaizen or Kaikaku?

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Kaizen or Kaikaku?

Kaizen or Kaikaku?

By John Herman   PMP, CQE, MPM


Kaizen is a Japanese word that means improvement.  When used in business or quality settings, it generally means continuous improvement, and is associated with cyclic activities like Deming’s Wheel (Plan-Do-Check-Act) and Six Sigma DMAIC. 

Kaikaku is a Japanese word that means “radical change”.   Kaikaku is associated with radical (innovative) change.  So yes, recent discussions about kaizen and continuous improvement possibly acting as impediments to innovation have some truth to them.  

Both Kaizen and Kaikaku are concepts associated with the “Lean” philosophy and strategy (  While Kaizen is evolutionary and focused on incremental improvements, Kaikaku is revolutionary and focused on radical improvements. 

Kaizen and Kaikaku are both important processes.  It’s interesting that the Lean/Quality/Six Sigma profession embraces Kaizen, which is a cyclic activity not greatly different from an Agile project management approach.   Meanwhile, those same quality professionals are often suspicious of the sudden change of Kaikaku, which is similar to the “big bang” Waterfall approach to Project Management.  In the PM field, the Waterfall approach has been stalwart across many decades, while Agile is just now catching up.  

Both Kaizen/Kaikaku and Agile/Waterfall are important processes.  There are situations and opportunities for each.  In the Lean/Quality/Six Sigma profession, it is well recognized that when change is introduced by Kaikaku, it is important to follow up with several cycles of Kaizen to improve and refine the change.   As PM’s, we should plan to have several Agile cycles shortly after the Go-Live of a Waterfall project, to fine-tune the results and capitalize on any improvement opportunities.   

Posted on: November 25, 2015 03:14 PM | Permalink

Comments (11)

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Great post! I like your recommendation at the very end, makes sense!

Kaizen (Continuous incremental improvement) : Lean initiatives or events with cumulative planning and execution timelines of hours to weeks.
• Smaller project scope.
• Small to medium staff and resource allocation.
• Quicker results with small, individual contributions to the bottom line of the organization or value stream.
• Tactical.

Kaikaku (Large-scale, radical change) : Lean initiative or event with a planning timeline of weeks to months and an execution timeline of hours to weeks (value stream dependent).
• Larger project scope.
• Medium to large staff and resource allocation.
• Results realized more slowly but with larger, concurrent, multiple contributions to the bottom line of the organization or value stream.
• Strategic.


Thank you for sharing, Excellent explanation about subject, because in my case I had no knowledge the Kaikaku word and also including its enforcement.

Best Regards,

Thank you for your post.
I was not familiarized with the term Kaikaku. Good explanation.

Excellent post !
Today I have learned about Kaikaku.

I believe "Kaikaku" is not a sustainable approach for a fast changing and complex environment and therefore the preference to "Kaizen" in such environment.

Kaikaku is sometimes also called "Breakthrough Kaizen", although to me, that's a contradiction in terms, and so I prefer Kaikaku. I need to state, however, that I disagree with Fouad's assertion that Kaizen is tactical while Kaikaku is strategic. Both types of change processes can be both strategic and tactical.

Thanks John for this post.
I learnt kaikaku from this post. You have explained the course of each in the last paragraph in a great way.
I just can say that, when in mid 90's our Indian economy was opened up; that was a Kaikaku. Till now it is Kaizen.

Hi John, Thanks for interested about comment but it's not assertion - it's a point of view from many of author in this subject; Like - Oliver Wyman’s lean expertise, Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise: Developing Competitive Capabilities book and in some of scrum Alliance org. presentations.

Debasis - in my opinion, BPR can be done via Kaizen or Kaikaku, or by phases of each.
Fouad - my opinion is that Kaizen and Kaikaku are neither tactical nor strategic, but can be used in improvement initiatives across all planning horizons (tactical, strategic, and anywhere in between).

John: Thank you so much for this article that introduced me to Kaikaku. I can see how it aligns with Waterfall in the larger planning cycle prior to deployment.

My belief is that you're correct in regards to both approaches being available to use whether it is strategic or tactical objectives. There could be a series of tactical kaikaku changes used to obtain an overall strategic course.

Technically then, would blending of the approaches also work in instances? For example, I envision a tactical kaikaku approach followed by a tactical kaizen approach to refine before deploying another kaikaku approach followed by more kaizen to refine ultimately accomplishing the strategic mission.

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