Kaizen is...

Kaizen is word we love a lot in the Agile world. It is more like a philosophy and it means we should always try to improve everything. Kaizen is about small, incremental improvement that derive from experience, observation or creativity. In a sense, doing Agile is very much about improving. Why do we need to improve? There are a few reasons:

  • Our customers want products that are better and better. So, we need to constantly improve our products
  • Our customers want products faster and cheaper. So, we need to constantly improve the processes we use to deliver those products.
  • But probably the most important, because we can do it. That what we do! We think, we have ideas, we are creative and that leads to improvements.

A question that I think we are not asking ourselves enough is what my added value? Regardless of what my job is called, what my seniority level is, how to I add value? I could argue that just by executing what you are told to execute you are not adding too much value. Adding value means finding a new way, a better way of achieving better results. And this is Kaizen. So, let’s illustrate that with a very popular Agile approach called Scrum. As you probably already know, Scrum is about working in sprints and delivering results after each sprint. At the end of each sprint there are two events which could be called the Kaizen moment of Scrum.

  • The first is the Scrum Review. In the review, we normally do a demo of the results of the sprint in front of end customers and try to get validation but more importantly, get some more ideas about how the product can be improved. Normally when you see the deliverable, the end results, as an end user you might get ideas which probably you were unaware of at the beginning. So, we are constantly trying to improve the product.
  • The other event is the Sprint Retrospective when we look at processes. What worked well and what could be done differently. So, we are applying the same approach of improvement to the way we work. If we successful at finding ideas to improve the way we work that will have an impact on efficiency thus making the product faster available to the customers and potentially even cheaper because of efficient processes.

These are just two examples of how Kaizen can be implemented by an Agile method like Scrum. But, as I was saying Kaizen is more like a philosophy so the real question is how do I improve my work and the result of that. In the end, that’s what we do. We have ideas, we implement them so that somebody down the road can benefit from them. This is our added value!

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