Kaizen, Kaikaku & Kakushin – what’s the difference?

Anyone who has been anywhere near a Lean consultant would have heard a few Japanese words thrown into the mix, mainly as they break up the normal tedious spiel. Well, now you will be able to explain to them the difference between Kazian and Kaikakiu.

All 3 words are used in conjunction with the topics of improvement and change. More so in software delivery nowadays but traditionally from the manufacturing sector.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 19.16.30

Kaizen is the most popular word by far. Derived from the Japanese words ‘Kai‘ meaning change and ‘Zen‘ meaning good. Kaizen in the context of Lean working is all about continuous-improvement, relentless continuous-improvement. Look at your processes and ways of working and find improvements – doesn’t matter how little or trivial-seeming the improvement is, they all matter. Then continue working and repeat the process to find the next area of improvement …..no system is ever perfect.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 19.16.22

Kaikaku, in contrast, means radical/big change. Whereas Kaizen is about small incremental improvements, Kaikaku is taking a sledgehammer to a system/process. Due to the large nature and ergo expensive nature of these changes they are normally top-down decisions. Also, Kaikaku tends to be done at a larger scale than Kaizen which is typically implemented at the team level.


Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 19.16.35

Kakushin – this is the most controversial one and lean geeks will argue all day on its exact meaning. If you translate it into innovation/reform/renewal then you won’t be far wrong. Basically looking at what you are doing now and not even trying to improve it, just doing something different or radical. Kakushin follows on more from Kaikau.

Maybe the diagram below will help you visualize the differences between the 3 words and their corresponding meanings.

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 19.46.22

How you implement these 3 different things is another story which I’ll cover in future blogs. As always, any comments hit me up below or drop me a tweet @pinkfatbunny

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for your post I learnt a lot from it. The picture was particularly helpful. I’ve only ever heard of Kaizen before and I love the philosophy


  2. Pablo A Chocrón says:

    Thank you, great explanation, the illustration is crystal clear, and Japanese Kanjis are good for framing the concepts.


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