Friday, January 11, 2013
Kaizen, per se
When I took on the task of running a marathon I started by putting together a training plan. It was 6 months long and one helluva grind. Six days a week, every week, speed work on weekdays, and progressively longer distance runs every Saturday. It was hard work, and it never got any easier; but I stuck to it. Yet through it all -- right down to the very end -- I never felt like I was ready (or even close). There was not one time when I finished a run and thought, "Now I feel incrementally closer to my goal." But I trusted in the plan, and on race day I was smiling at the finish line.
Since then I haven't quit running, but I'm no longer training for anything. I still get out 3 times a week for 5 or 6 miles in the morning. I don't feel like I've gotten out of shape. On the contrary, every time I hit the road I'm proud to be keeping up my good habits. So one weekend not long ago I decided to stretch my legs a bit and go out for 15 miles -- a little more than I had done in a while but surely nothing to a marathoner like me. After 8 miles I hit the wall, and the rest of the run was a slow crescendo of agony.
It was in the delirium of trying to make it home that day that I began to see the comparison with kaizen. Does your kaizen process look something like this: You take everyone's ideas and put them into a funnel, then you pull out the ones with the highest ROI, assign resources, and hold an event? If so, do you find that the results are consistently hard to sustain and that at the end of the year it's hard to see if the organization as a whole has moved the needle much? This is like running without a training plan. It's good exercise and definitely better than doing nothing, but ultimately it won't build the muscle and stamina needed to make you truly stronger.
I think you should start with a plan, a vision for what you want your organization to look like at the end of a year. Then line up and plan your kaizens to move you toward that objective. Each event on its own might not seem nearly as sexy or impactful this way, but at the end of the year you should be able to clearly see the difference between where you are and where you were. And you'll know that it was kaizen (at least in part) that got you there.
Per se is a latin phrase and a term used in American jurisprudence. It means "by itself". Its antithesis is per quod, which means "by which" and is used to indicate something that is meaningful only in a larger context. Kaizen, per se, is not a bad thing. But if you want real, long-term, sustainable competitive results, use kaizen, per quod.
Posted by Evan Durant at 8:00 AM