Is it possible to have kaizen without lean?
Can you run a campaign of continuous improvement without the direction and structure of an official lean program?
Of course you can! And I’ll explain why…
If you are a lean-minded, process-oriented, and attention to detail person who exhibits (dare I say it) ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, you stand a very good chance of running a successful kaizen event even if the company you work for does not incorporate an official lean program. In many organizations that have not yet transformed to lean, the reasons for it may include lack of management understanding, a failed past transformation, or a business culture bent on never changing. It could be a number of things. But all things considered, why would it matter that you don’t have someone directing you to cut costs, improve flow, or increase customer value? No matter what position you hold or how busy your day to day gets, these are focused metrics that any company wants to improve. Working for a living is all about making money, right? For you and your organization.
Let’s look at it this way – If you approached your boss and said “Hey Boss! I want to run a kaizen event over here in the Shipping Department because they never ship anything on time! What do you think?”
What do you think your Boss’ answer will be?
If your company doesn’t follow a true lean path, more than likely, it will be “We can’t afford to waste resources or spend that much time on it, so no!” “Just move those over here, and those over there… then it will be alright!”
Have you heard an answer like this before? Or maybe it was more like – “We just don’t have time for a kaizen event – it’s way too involved.”
Either way, although your company may have certain “improvement” minded people around, it does not mean it is fully capable of continuous improvement under its current structure. With direction from management always squaring off against company culture and along the way dealing with “the next great thing”, it can be extremely difficult to launch a kaizen event.
So again – what do you do?
Some believe kaizen is a structured set of processes bound by certain rules that must take place within a certain number of days. Other professionals believe in the exact opposite – that kaizen can be anything you want it to be; without rules, and without time limitations. Some people believe even further that kaizen should be more focused on only a few elements such as project management, theory of constraints, leadership, culture change, or even the fun of just breaking down processes.
The latter part is rare, but I have seen this where someone becomes so ingrained in the process of fixing something, that they become enamored with it, and can never break free, thus completely failing at completing the project or event.
So back to our question now – Can you have kaizen without lean?
In my opinion… absolutely.
Kaizen, after all, is simply another word for continuous improvement, right?