The Language of Progress (3 of 3)

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This is the final installment in our Language of Progress series. Buttons are down below for parts 1 and 2 if you missed those.

I loved the original Karate Kid movies, featuring Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-San. They are a bit outdated by today’s standards, but they conveyed a great message.

One of the items featured in the movies was a Bonsai tree, which Mr. Miyagi meticulously tended, and which Daniel eventually transplanted to the side of a cliff.

The principles of growing and caring for a Bonsai coincide perfectly with today’s topic – continuous improvement.

Continuous improvement – aka incremental improvement – is a method of project management that aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a process or product through small, gradual refinements.

The big idea is that small changes can have a significant impact when they accumulate over time. I absolutely agree with this, and have seen it play out many, many times.

I also like to say “take a little ground and hold it.”

Let’s unpack this a bit more.

The Japanese have become world renowned for their meticulous attention to even the smallest of details and their relentless pursuit of perfection in whatever they do. Pure craftsmanship.

For a prime example, check out the Grand Seiko watch brand.

The underlying philosophy is called Kaizen. It emphasizes small, consistent steps vs. massive leaps forward. Kaizen teaches that consistent and disciplined daily improvements lead to substantial progress and efficiency.

This stands in stark contrast to our Western world. We tend to be in a hurry and just want to get things done as quickly as possible.

The reality is that the best Eastern and Western companies religiously practice Kaizen.

Following are a few basics.

Definition – Incremental improvement in project management involves making minor changes in processes or systems to improve efficiency, avoid large scale disruptions and also learn and adapt from each minor change.

How it Works – Incremental improvement is continuous and ongoing. It involves regularly reviewing and refining processes to find ways to make them better. This could be anything from adjusting a meeting format to save time, to introducing a new tool that makes collaboration easier, or a simple modification to a production process.

Benefits – Practiced consistently, incremental improvement leads to significant benefits. By constantly refining and improving processes, systems, or products, teams can become more efficient, produce higher quality work, and improve their ability to meet project goals. It also allows teams to adapt and respond to changes more effectively.

The best things in life most often take time to properly develop and mature. This is true for both projects and our individual leadership.

Application – Here’s one example of how you can go about this. After each project, your team could hold a review meeting to discuss what went well and what could be improved.

Then, use these insights to make small adjustments to how the team operates. Additionally, solicit feedback from stakeholders, gather lessons learned from past projects, and data from project management tools to identify areas for improvement.

Another thing I’d like to really convey here is that Kaizen is a mindset that encompasses a lifelong commitment to continuous learning. A worldview and mental discipline of sorts.

All leaders will benefit from this.

If your company is late to this party, it is never too late to start. Kaizen is a core competence for remaining competitive.

I’ve wanted a Bonsai tree for years now. This seems a good time to order one.

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