Kaizen: Embracing a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Tapping into our potential for positive change is great for business – especially when it comes to managing projects for valued clients in a fast-growing company.

Rapid expansion is both exciting and challenging because there’s always the risk it can result in losses rather than profit. It’s a balancing act. At Article Ten we believe that one key way to meet this challenge is by continually improving what we do to make our clients happy – and in project management, that means getting better and better at planning, problem-solving, and understanding what it is that our clients want, right from the get-go.

Article Ten is a creative communications agency that’s built its reputation on designing and producing a wide range of marketing and communications deliverables on a fast turnaround – and in the past few years, we’ve been experiencing rapid internal growth. For example, four new heads of department roles have been created and four people promoted into existing head-of-department roles. Simultaneously, we’re taking on an ever-growing number of smaller projects, along with more, larger-scale projects with heavier design work. Business is booming, and the team is fired up and keen to meet its demands.

I discovered Kaizen while reading project management blogs and investigating project management tools.

It now drives all my thinking about the developments we should make in project management and how to get better. Widely translated as “continuous improvement”, Kaizen (literally, “good change”) is a lean business practice that focuses on applying small, daily changes to create major improvements over time. Problems are seen as opportunities to improve: you can always do it better and improve it, even if things are not broken.

Kaizen is one of several new management techniques that first emerged in Japan after World War II as a result of a collaboration between some US business consultants and Japanese companies, to improve manufacturing. Its philosophy and practice were introduced to the West by Masaaki Imai in his book Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success, in 1986.

Kaizen means workers at all levels of an organisation participate in improving the business, based on their observations and experience, by offering their ideas and suggestions. It is usually carried out by an individual, a group of people, or an improvement suggestion system.

Article Ten’s new ‘debrief database’ is a Kaizen-inspired initiative.

It is now being used by our team, to good effect, allowing everyone to document and share their learnings. For example, we recently had a brief to design and produce an eLearning course: The project was in its final stages when the client said they also needed a printed version for people who are visually impaired. This kind of last-minute change can cause a lot of stress, but we were able to see it as an opportunity for improvement. Since capturing it, we have formally added a new ‘step’ to the scoping stage of every eLearning design project: to define what level of accessibility a course requires, and agree what deliverables to include in the project scope to meet that.

Section from the debrief database

The debrief database is just one small example of a Kaizen-inspired management tool, but it’s a significant step towards what promises to become more and more a culture of continuous improvement here at Article Ten. And that’s why I think the future’s bright. The more we embrace our potential for positive change and support every member of the team to participate in that process, the better we can scale while maintaining the quality of service our clients expect. It takes time to change habits, but that shouldn’t be a problem, Article Ten moves pretty fast.