kaizen considered harmful

Hal Macomber points out a rant from Tom Peters, in which Tom tries to claim that kaizen is “dangerous”. His reasoning is that continuous gradual improvement can get in the way of spotting the “next big thing”, and that gradual change isn’t enough in the modern world of short development cycles and rapid obsolescence.

I think Tom has confounded two different business cycles in his quest for a soundbite. As Hal notes, Toyota were able to introduce the new Matrix in one year from concept to customer – precisely because of their continued pursuit of perfection! Without a mature kaizen process Toyota could not have honed their product development process to the point that they could undercut the other manufacturers’ cycle times by upto two years. By even conceiving of the Matrix, Toyota showed that they can innovate; but by getting it into the marketplace in a year, they showed that they have a world-class development process. These are two different things, and it was kaizen that made the second one a reality. Without years of kaizen, the Matrix innovation would have been devalued by a long time-to-market delay.

In my opinion, kaizen frees the hands of the innovator. And to think that sloppy processes can support rapid innovation is dangerous advice, Tom.

Update, 4-jan-07
Hear Mark Perry read out sections of this post by listening to the first couple of minutes of podcast #60 of his “PMO Podcasts for Executives and Managers”. Thanks for the mention Mark!

4 thoughts on “kaizen considered harmful

  1. I’m certainly no expert, but I wonder what you thought about thefact that the Matrix was the product of a JV with GM? Do we know where the innovation really came from?

  2. Hi Dale, I agree that we can’t expect to pin down the precise origins of any specific innovation. But I wonder how many great ideas die of suffocation under product development processes that aren’t built on lean principles…

  3. Tom Peters has probably never been involved in a kaizen event. To say that kaizen events stand in the way of innovation is like saying a snack in the morning stands in the way of dinner.

    Does he really think that everyone in the company is spending all of their time on kaizen teams.

    I guess he is selling books so creating a little controversy helps.

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