Personal Kaizen – Lean for one

Personal Kaizen: Lean for one! (Part 1)

No conversation on personal improvement is complete with considering the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Kaizen is the Japanese term for ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better’. It is most often associated with the Lean process made popular by Toyota and is a generic management philosophy focused on improving processes.

Clearly applicable to the manufacturing domain, there are also clear opportunities to learn individual improvement techniques from Lean processes.

This post is the first of several that will present possible applications of the Lean process for personal development and productivity.

5 Principles of Lean

Value – What is it that is of value you. What aligns best to your personal goals, missions or purpose?

Value Stream – What are the activities and steps you undertake to achieve that flow of activity aimed at achieving value?

Flow – What are the stops, blocks and barriers to the seamless achievement of that value stream?

Pull – Activities should be ‘on demand’ and initiated by triggers.

Perfection – Aim for constant improvement.

So how does this apply?


Much has already been written on the setting of goals. By setting goals we

– Focus on what is important to us.
– Allow our subconscious to identify opportunities that align with our goals.
– Set criteria that enable to make the decisions to move us towards our purpose.
– Identify measures that indicate how we are moving toward our purpose.

By concentrating on the achievement of these goals we implicitly work to increase value.

Value Stream

A Value Stream is a Lean phrase that defines the process, from start to finish that moves a team or person towards Value. As an individual this would be what you do on a routine basis to meet your goals. I have identified simple actions that combine into a process of moving towards my goals and take those actions daily.


Flow describes the seamless movement towards your goal. Sometimes I find that there are reasons that I cannot take some actions. Perhaps time, family or work commitments stop me working toward specific goals. These are blocks and barriers in the Flow of my Value Stream. I try to ensure flow by identifying key Getting Thing Done Next Actions that can be taken in whatever context I am in. My processes change based on which barriers exist but the aim of my activity is to focus on a steady flow.


Pull describes the triggers for action. In simple terms, a deadline for some action like paying a bill is a Pull trigger. Too much up front effort can be nugatory and wasteful and exactly the problem that Lean is trying to reduce. With this attitude, we avoid the problems of ‘planning early causing us to plan twice’.


Perfection is an ideal but it is your ideal. It is your idea of the person you would like to be. Personal improvement and self-development is in itself a process, a stream of activity and a personal journey. With any journey it does require action and movement. Even if you are on the right track, the train will still hit you if you don’t keep moving!

There are advantages and disadvantages with the Lean process but as an approach, there may be some aspects that add to your effectiveness and performance. As with all tools, they may work for you and they may not. Aim for an implementation that meets your needs, is elegant and friction free.

And as always Dare to Aspire


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Filed under Improvement, Lean Process

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