Book Review: Creating a Kaizen Culture

I just finished reading Creating a Kaizen Culture, by Jon Miller, Mike Wroblewski, and Jaime Villafuerte. It's terrific, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to deepen their understanding of lean and the term that we so easily bandy about without thought: "kaizen." The real value of this book, I think, is the emphasis on, and elaboration of, the "respect for people" element of lean. From all my readings and experiences, I've thought of respect for people in two primary ways: first and most obviously, seeing people as assets, not just variable costs to be fired when finances are tight. Second, avoiding what John Shook once called "laissez faire" management, in which you take a hands-off approach to management in order to avoid impinging upon workers' freedom.

This book argues convincingly that kaizen is so much more than the common five-day blitz to improve a specific process. Kaizen -- real, lasting kaizen -- is about human development. It's about creating people who are better problem solvers, better thinkers, and more fully actualized human beings. To be sure, a company pursuing a kaizen culture will benefit financially, but that's just an ancillary (if welcome) benefit. Kaizen is a moral imperative for any organization -- and prerequisite for a lean organization.

The book offers plenty of theory related to culture change, relying upon both lean luminaries and the usual array of business thinkers (John Kotter, Edgar Schein, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Jeff Liker, Masaaki Imai, et al). The case studies are wide-ranging and persuasive -- they beautifully illustrate the point that creating a sustainable kaizen culture is about simple practices, done repeatedly, with conviction.

If we are indeed finally leaving what Jim Womack called the "tool age" of lean, you can do no better than to read this book.