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 (www.lean.org). 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.