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How Kaizen Helps you Boost Efficiency in Project Management

January 22, 2020

Here’s a thought: how fantastic would it be to boost efficiency in project management in a very straight-forward manner,  simply through taking a slightly different approach and through consistently applying a tried and tested method for improvement?

A few weeks ago, while reading up on risk management in project management, I was reminded of the Kaizen Methodology. While widespread and well-used (and sometimes also abused), it triggered the question: How useful would the Kaizen methodology be in project management and how would you implement it? 

I want to start off by saying that there is a lot more to be said on the topic than can be covered in a short blog, but sometimes all it takes is planting the seed for it to trigger a genius insight that can take you on an unexpected journey. 

 So here’s to the start of something brilliant…

What is it? 

Kaizen was first introduced in Japan shortly after WWII, most notably in the Toyota manufacturing company. 

The Kaizen key ideas are that …

  • Small changes can make a big difference
  • Continuous improvement is the magical word
  • Everybody should be involved, from CEO to assembly line worker

According to the Kaizen methodology there is always room for small improvements. It challenges the status quo, and the process is one of daily and ongoing practice. Kaizen doesn’t subscribe to dropping a big bomb of change that scares the heck out of people, but rather it encourages small and gradual baby steps that are well thought through. As a result, change happens gradually. An extra bonus is that buy-in is a great because everybody is involved. 

There is no room for waste (Muda) .

Kaizen aims at reducing waste. This can take on many forms.

It can mean…

  • cutting out unnecessary moving around both physically and mentally (like being distracted)
  • avoiding wasted time on latecomers or inefficiencies in the process
  • avoiding faulty products that need to be reworked or thrown out 
  • avoiding over-processing; just enough is better. But it equally means only inviting people to a meeting that need to be there or not sending unnecessarily long emails. 
  • standardizing products, rather than customizing them. Templates are king.

What can Kaizen do for Project Management? 

While Kaizen has predominantly been used in lean manufacturing companies, it’s aimed at providing a way for individuals and small teams to become super-efficient and effective at the job they do. And that, of course can be very useful in project management where budgets are always tight and timelines always at risk of being overrun. 

It’s possible to get the entire company professionally trained and coached in the Kaizen methodology. But there is no reason at all why you can’t have a go at it with your team or on your own. 

Here’s how you tackle DIY Kaizen methodology for project managers.

  • Make a commitment to fresh ideas as opposed to sticking to how things have always been. Question current practices and standards. Encourage a can-do attitude and try to figure out ways to do something rather than to look for reasons why it can’t be done. 
  • Take time to reflect.  Don’t rush from one project to the next and from one task to the next. Have a focussed moment of reflection first thing in the morning. What’s on your to-do list today? What is the most efficient way to do it? Make a plan. Start meetings with a similar thinking path to get your team all submerged in the Kaizen methodology as well. 
  • Collect ideas of things you think could be done better while you are doing them. Note them down. After all, we all know you may think you will remember them, but when it comes to cold reflection, the insight will be gone. The key to successful Kaizen program management is to subscribe to the idea that every step forward is good, even if it’s only small progress. Every idea should be considered, especially in the early stages. 
  • Once a month, sit down with the team (or do it on your own) and consider waste in the way you and the team are working. Gather and review feedback from all areas of the business. Employees at all levels of the business should feel that every idea has the potential to contribute.
  • If you’re a manager who spends his or her time high in the towers of the company castle, get on the road with your project managers. Feel their day, live their lives. 
  • If you agree that changes are appropriate, consider the best way and the time to implement them. Consider making changes straight away before more waste happens vs. change overload.  
  • Everybody makes mistakes, and that’s fine. Just correct it straight away. Nobody’s perfect and neither should be your work. Just remember that every step forward is gain. As far as Kaizen is concerned, when people make mistakes, it’s usually the poor processes that are to blame, not the people themselves. Get the processes right, so there is no room for human error. 

Kaizen and efficiency in project management.

As soon as you talk about efficiency, you can be certain that Kaizen along with Lean and Six Sigma will receive a mention. All three are business improvement methodologies and they have plenty of similarities. They are even used interchangeably and combined, but they are not the same. 

Considering that Kaizen focuses on improving the business as a whole, it is probably of most interest to project managers. From a project management point of view, the Kaizen methodology provides a framework for project managers to follow and lead to a meaningful change in both the short and long-term.