Don’t forget to improve!

Kaizen - don’t stop growing up.
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What values Lean management can bring to project and team management?

Let’s take a look at this together.

Lean management is mostly associated with manufacturing, but some parts of its philosophy can be successfully applied to project management and even team management.

Let’s start with Kaizen, a continuous improvement methodology that originated in the Japanese manufacturing industry. Kaizen principles can be well applied in other industries. I’d like to present to you the fundamentals of it and illustrate how we can use them in project management.

Maasaki Imai, who introduced the Kaizen approach, described the whole concept in one accurate sentence: “Kaizen is everyday improvement, everybody improvement, everywhere improvement.” The word Kaizen stands for “Good” (zen) and “Change” (kai).

The core of Kaizen’s philosophy are 10 principles that allow you to understand the whole mindset:

1. Let go of assumptions.
2. Be proactive about solving problems.
3. Don't accept the status quo.
4. Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change.
5. Look for solutions as you find mistakes.
6. Create an environment in which everyone feels empowered to contribute.
7. Don't accept the obvious issue; instead, ask "why" five times to get to the root cause.
8. Collect information and opinions from multiple people.
9. Use creativity to find low-cost, small improvements.
10. Never stop improving.

Kaizen and Agile

Teams that are already working in Scrum, might even not know that they’re already using camouflaged Kaizen’s technique: PDCA - plan, do, check, act.


- Plan - it’s nothing else than planning a Sprint and all the work that needs to be done
- Do - Ongoing Sprint while we’re delivering the work
- Check - demo and retrospective (what else is a retrospective meeting than seeking improvement?)
- Act - all the action items taken to improve the process, team collaboration, and delivered product


We can say that Kaizen gave birth to the idea of continuous improvement in Agile.

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Taking a look at retrospective meetings, it’s team time to think about what went well, what could be better, and what improvements can be made, so it’s a powerful tool that allows the team to continuous improvement, therefore practising Kaizen. They can identify small steps, be proactive about solving problems and make changes in an iterative way.


From a project management perspective, a very useful technique might be asking 5 times why. Cast the first stone who was not struggling with the issue, racking his head about the root cause. So, when the problem occurs, you can drill down in a simple way to peel off the symptoms layers, discover ‘the truth’ and prevent issues from recurring.

Feedback loop

If Kaizen is about continuous improvement, we could also use it just for people. Companies, projects, and processes… but the heart of all of it are people. What’s the best way of using Kaizen for individuals?


It’s a feedback loop. Asking for feedback or giving feedback is not a simple thing, but we all know it’s needed for both improvement and growth. Using the Kaizen philosophy in team management could be feedback based. First, we should focus on continuity. Giving feedback once won’t change much. Improvement will take place if we make it with a specific frequency continuously. What’s also important is that it should be goal-oriented, not time oriented, and perfectly divided into smaller objectives.


As Kaizen says: Let go of perfectionism and take an attitude of iterative, adaptive change.

It also means that by giving feedback, we should be as specific as possible to give improvement opportunities as soon as possible (in an interactive way). Good feedback also doesn’t give ready solutions. Empower people to actively seek improvements and growth opportunities, solving issues and being proactive about that.


A perfect way to talk about feedback and shortcut the distance between the leader and team member is Gemba's walk.

Gemba - let’s take a walk

Gemba is a Japanese word that means 'the real place', but lean management adopted it to describe any location where work happens. The most important aspect of Gemba is the “Gemba walk”, which is literally a walk, and it encourages leaders/managers to interact with the people they work with and interact with projects and processes.


Why is it important? It gives both leaders and managers a better overview of the project and could help to obtain more details and understand the team as a whole and all the members.


What will it give you? More transparency and trust encourage greater communication which is a perfect ground for building strong, well-performing teams.

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Written by: Karolina, on December 14, 2022
Project Management