Guest Post: How Standardized Does a Kaizen Process Need to Be?


Mark's Note: Today's post is by a colleague from The Netherlands, Erwin Haas. Erwin is a leader in a Dutch consulting firm, NextChange, a formal partner of KaiNexus. I am the chief improvement officer at KaiNexus.

By Erwin Haas

erwinA couple of weeks ago, I talked with a Lean coach at a Dutch Hospital and she told me about how they were implementing a Kaizen improvement process in several departments.

Kaizen was not mandated in a top-down way within the hospital, meaning that the departments were free to start a Kaizen process whenever they wanted.   On its own, this isn't a bad way of approaching the implementation of Kaizen within an organization.  As soon as one or more departments show success, this will encourage the other departments to try to be as successful with the use of Kaizen.

One thing that surprised me, however, was that if a department wanted to join the Kaizen program, they were free to do it in their own way, meaning that there were no formats or guidelines for how to execute their Kaizen efforts.

This conflicts with one of the major principles of Lean: “standardized work.” If you have a consistent, repeatable process, you have a stable baseline from which it is easier to improve. As Masaaki Imai, author of the books Kaizen and Gemba Kaizen, wrote:

“Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement. For these reasons, standards are the basis for both sustainment and improvement.”

Another big benefit of doing Kaizen the same way in every department is that a lot of Kaizen programs, especially in healthcare, are siloed and potentially sub-optimized. Because of this, improvement is only found within the boundaries of the department, and a successful multi-departmental improvement project depends on similar workflows and communication. As an example, if one department communicates on a daily basis and the other on a weekly basis, people within the same improvement project will have different information.

A lot of organizations start a Kaizen approach with “Kaizen boards,” which visually display every improvement action taken and the status of those actions.  These improvements are often also logged in some sort of Excel environment for tracking and historical purposes.

It is my opinion, that it is very good to work with some sort of visual display, but there is a great risk in using Excel-based environments.  Every department will have the tendency to adjust this Excel spreadsheet to their personal preferences, with all kind of possible risks.  For example, the planning of the improvement project will be very difficult if multiple departments have their own spreadsheet and, therefore, their own planning instead of an overall standard system that supports and informs every department in the same way.  That is part of the benefit of using a software platform, like KaiNexus, that encourages people to register improvement actions and results in sustained standardized behavior to keep everybody informed.

In conclusion, it is very good to introduce a Kaizen program that spreads organically, but be aware that the structure and approach should be consistent and standardized.

Standardize your way of doing Kaizen to make it possible to improve your Kaizen work itself, and to break the silo-ed boundaries of your departments.

Erwin Haas is a consulting partner at a consultancy, NextChange. They implement Continuous Improvement strategies and KaiNexus software in the medical sector in the Netherlands and Belgium. Learn more about KaiNexus via the NextChange site (in Dutch) or (English).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I agree with the above mentioned statement regarding stadardization of processes, how ca I be otherwise :-). What I do want to adress is the lack of top-down implementation in this Dutch hospital.

    To my opinion this is crusial to ensure that imrpvements are based on the common well known strategy of the organisation. Improvements should benefit the purpose / challenge of the organisation. And that is something that needs to be know throughout the organisation. Leaving the Kaizen approach up to the team indeed increases the risk on sub-optimiztion or even worse, not contributing to the strategie of the organisation.


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