2014: Kaizen and continuous improvement

Rather than my standard resolutions, trying to be a little smarter this year about improving things gradually.

I’ve always been a bit too fond of grand new year resolutions, which basically mean I’m setting myself up with concrete targets I fail to meet exactly, and promptly abandon entirely.

This year, inspired from working around too many people doing agile, I’ve gone for a simpler take and I’m aiming for Kaizen – “continuous improvement”. Now I’ll admit that I’m bastardising the word horribly, but my resolution is just to do things that make stuff better, even if they seem small.

Right now at every gym in the country, a horde of marauding resolutioners are desperately striving to get to the gym 3 times a week. But they’re going at peak times, at the peak-time of the year, and they’ll fail because they’re going to a horrible room at its worst. It’s way less exciting to say “I’m going to go once or twice a week”, getting into the habit, and then working up; but that doesn’t give you the immediate achievement hit that misguided over-ambition does.

The hard truth is you really need to start in March when it’s a bit calmer and you’re not frustrated you can’t get any weights or machines. Come next year you’ll be so versed in knowing when and how to ask with non-verbal communication “how many sets left?” and “can we swap?” ; then you’ll be able to cope with the January hordes.

Team GB’s cycling squad were aiming for marginal gains, 1% here, 1% there – combining to something material, that material being Gold. Sure go for big wins too; but start the ball rolling with the small changes, and that 5% of improvement will put you in the place to tackle the 20% that you know will really take commitment.

The other important thing is that Kaizen addresses entire systems, not just individual items. If a car-plant repeatedly fails assembly because components are too variable – then the components are sourced with better reliability. You can’t fix it on the production line if it arrived broken.

You’re not a car plant, but you’re part of a system. Your friends that you choose to spend time with, your activities you do and where you do them. They’re all things that can be tuned a little, not just the things you directly do.

Happy 2014 everyone, and I hope it’s a one filled with many, small, incremental improvements.