Kaizen 改善 – It is not what you think

Kaizen 改善, a phrase we are familiar with as an Agile practitioner, Scrum Master, Product Owner, Agile Coach, or in Development Team. Most of us know it as “Continuous Improvement”. The Scrum team continuous improving their process, their practice, and their product development environment.

It’s well known and pretty clearly defined in Scrum or Agile community. It was notable from The Toyota Production System (TPS), and lean is the essence of TPS and agile.

Kaizen 改善 combines two words written in Chinese, the first word is Kai 改 and the second word is Zen 善. Kai 改 means Change and Zen 善 is Better, Kaizen 改善 means Change for Better.

The common myth for the Kaizen 改善 as Continuous Improvement is when you look at what it means in its origin which is Chinese, there is no continuity in it and improvement doesn’t cover the meaning completely. According to Merriam Webster online, improvement means:

  1. the act or process of improving
  2. a: the state of being improved; especially: enhanced value or excellence b: an instance of such improvement: something that enhances value or excellence

The translation is lost, the Change is missing and the word Continuous is added may be to imply you need to continue doing it to get better, but that is not what the word 改善 really means.

We as Agile coach, part of the agile transformation is about Change. Kaizen 改善 starts with change, and the change starts from us, we have to have the coaching mindset, and the only thing you can change is You. How to make something better? You have to Change 改 first, that is what Kaizen 改善 is about. Only if you change, then you can make it better.

So next time when we say Kaizen 改善, let’s remember it’s Change for Better. You, your team, or your organization wants something better? You do Kaizen 改善 – Change for Better.

Kaizen 改善 – Change for Better

Want better results? You need to Change first

That is for Kaizen 改善 which is the opposite of Kaikaku 改革. Kaikaku 改革 means Change Revolutionary, this is a stronger phrase than Kaizen 改善. Kaikaku 改革 usually implies that if its success, there will be a new world ahead of us, however, if it failed, there will be consequences. But if you choose to do nothing, nothing will change, and someone will eat your lunch.

In my opinion, Kaizen 改善 is for process improvements and Kaikaku 改革 is for product development where you want disruptive innovation, you want the next generation of your products, you want digitalization, and just doing Kaizen 改善 won’t be enough to survive in the digitalized world, you need Kaikaku 改革.

You can’t Kaizen 改善 Incandescent light bulb into LED, you need Kaikaku 改革.



The Agile Coach and Product Kaikaku 改革 Master

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