What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese approach to manufacturing quality stuff that focuses on continuous improvement, not perfection. It focuses attention on where the real work is done; identifies the constraints and obstacles to getting work done; and finds ways for the people who do the real work to have the power to avoid those problems.

Kaizen was developed and popularized as part of the Toyota Production System, the set of manufacturing management techniques that Toyota used to become the #1 carmaker in the world. TPS also formed part of the foundation of what’s now called “lean manufacturing.”

And that’s where I come in. I first encountered lean in the early part of the ’00s, as I learned about Agile software development techniques. By 2006, I was using the Scrum flavor of Agile to manage product development and sales for my start-up. The principles of is approach, as popularized in the modern American tech industry, are broadly applicable to management and even to individual productivity. Best of all, they’re reasonable, people-focused, practical, and measurable.

So, when my most important product turned out to be in development, I thought: how can I use what I know about making good things to make one very important good thing? So I began to study Kaizen, the root of Agile. This is the story of how I apply this decade of lessons, and what new things I learn, as a dad and as a software engineer. But mostly as a dad.

Each entry includes some application of Kaizen thought, and there’s also a glossary of what key terms mean. And I try not to be too stuffy about all this all.