The Cadence of Kaizen

By Jon Miller Published on January 4th, 2008

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “to change and make good,” embodying both the philosophy an the practice of continuous improvement in business as well as personal life. We are often asked about the “right” way to do kaizen. The quotation marks exist to point out the irony that doing kaizen implies that there is no single right way but only a better way. Giving such an answer is not the easiest way to sell consulting services, but it is the most practical way to do kaizen.
These questions about the right way to do kaizen are along the lines of “How many events per month?” or “How many ideas per person per month?” or “How many people on a kaizen team?” or “How much money will we save how fast?” People in in search of step-by-step approach to implementing lean manufacturing / lean office / lean healthcare through kaizen tend to ask these questions. People (consultants) in search of sales of lean manufacturing implementations make up answers to these questions. Sometimes they are right.
While it is a great thing that people want to do kaizen and do it properly, I think questions such as these somewhat miss the point. The question people should ask is “What is the appropriate cadence of kaizen for our organization?” Cadence is hard to describe in terms of kaizen, but it seems to fit the cyclical nature of continuous improvement. Cadence is word that may not come up in everyday conversation unless you are a musician or involved in one of the other professions or pastimes below. Let’s briefly explore definitions of the word ‘cadence.’
– In music, cadence is the rhythm, the measure or the beat of sound. In Western music theory a cadence is a particular series of intervals or chords that ends a phrase, section, or piece of music.
– In horse training, cadence is the result of correct training that a horse demonstrates when it moves with well-marked regularity, impulsion, balanced and rhythmic strides.
– In military terms, cadence is a uniform rhythm or number of steps or counts per minute for performing drills or marches.
– In rowing, cadence is the beat that the oarsmen row. A coxswain may rap out the cadence to keep the oarsmen pulling in unison.
– In cycling, cadence is the rate of pedaling in crank revolutions per minute.
Which of these definitions of cadence ring out with relevance to you in terms of kaizen

  1. ekaizen

    January 4, 2008 - 11:48 am

    Hello, firstly I must say sorry because my English is rather poor, but I´ll make an effort.
    This morning I’ve had a conversation with my colleague about the minimal number of kaizen events per team and per year.
    We practice kaizen for 3 or 4 years, so in my company, We can say that there is an education of kaizen. The method works quite well with good results.
    So our conclusion of this morning has been that the best way is demand very few compulsory kaizen, per example 2 or 3 per team. But here the big question: “We hope that kaizen arise” because we’ve demonstrated that is a good thing.

  2. Jon Miller

    January 4, 2008 - 12:23 pm

    Su Inglés es mucho mejor que mi español, mi amigo.
    I complete agree that kaizen should arise because we’ve demonstrated that it is good.

  3. Rob

    January 5, 2008 - 1:45 am

    As a keen runner I use cadence in my attempt to continually improve. If you have ever watched an elite Kenyan run, you will see that they look like they float across the ground, and at a cadence greater than 100, they almost are. Their ground contact time is very low, which means they touch the ground, and get off the ground very quickly. The shorter your ground contact time, the less chance for injury. I also use visual management – I follow the white line painted on the street, everything else gets blocked out of my mind!

  4. ekaizen

    January 5, 2008 - 3:24 am

    Muchas gracias Jon, tu español es perfecto.

  5. Alberto

    January 5, 2008 - 10:02 pm

    Vaya! no sabía que ya estabamos hablando en español, haberlo dicho antes!.
    Well the different meanings you gave to Cadence spoke to me in a very important concept in Lean Manufacturing, every time you speak about rythm you’re speaking about takt time production (let’s not forget that TAKT is the german word for rythm). So this brings up a new question, should we develop a takt time for our kaizen needs?
    i think we should, if we want to achieve sutaintability with the tenacity of a terminator

  6. Jon Miller

    January 6, 2008 - 8:15 pm

    I wouldn’t claim to speak Spanish Alberto, but can get buy in a pinch, and read it fairly well.
    Business, life, nature all have some sort of rhythm or cycle. As for a takt for kizen, it should not be forced or paced but something natural and that is what lead me to the word “cadence.”

  7. Jaime

    January 11, 2008 - 8:05 am

    Este blog es fabuloso, y ver comentarios en Español me da mucho Gusto,
    Muchas Gracias Jon,

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.