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Kaizen, project management and leadership

Kaizen is a Japanese word which means ‘Good Change’.

The word refers to any type of improvement, one time or continuous, large or small, and it is something that we have been looking at in the context of project and programme management.

Whilst the basics of project management remain simple, the difficult task for project managers is often how to bring a team together to deliver an exceptional outcome within time, budget and resource constraints.

Often you find yourself looking to implement major changes that appear to remove significant inefficiencies or improve operations, however big changes are often difficult to achieve and are regularly met with resistance, doubt, fear and apathy.

Incremental, step changes can often be small but meaningful changes for organisations. And this is where Kaizen can come in.

Some of the core principles of Kaizen are extremely simple, but often get lost in the midst of project delivery, for example:

Thinking of ways to make something happen rather than reasons why something can’t be done

Starting change right away and building on that change over time

When something doesn’t work as expected, taking the time to understand the root causes of why things went wrong

Measuring your successes and failures so you can actually tell if you are improving

Not only can adopting Kaizen principles assist your project team to be more effective, but it can also help to improve your performance as a project manager and a leader. It enables you to review your approach and actions as a leader of a project team.

Setting out a big goal can act as a motivator for success, but it can also strike fear into people due to the scale of the changes involved. I remember setting out on day 1 of my 7 Marathons in 7 Days challenge in 2014 and getting to mile 18 and thinking ‘I’ve got six more of these things to run over the next six days’. This stirred up a huge amount of fear and doubt in me with regards to actually completing the challenge. By the end of the week my running partner and I were breaking the marathons down into smaller, manageable targets, even down to 100-metre targets by the last three miles of marathon number 7.

Adopting the simplicity of the Kaizen principles to projects and your project management approach will allow you to make small, successful changes that deliver real results.

‘I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.’ Helen Keller

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