The three Ks to remember of Lean IT

Within the world of Lean IT, there are three main words used within the domain of improvement: Kaizen, Kaikaku and Kakushin. But what is exactly the difference? In this post, we will guide you through the core definitions to remember the difference between these Japanese words.


Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement using small incremental changes. It translates as change for the better. Kai means change, Zen means for the better. Kaizen is an approach for solving problems and forms the basis of incremental continual improvement in organisations. A problem is a difficulty that has to be resolved or dealt with. When applied to the workplace, Kaizen means continuous improvement involving everyone, managers and workers alike, every day and everywhere, providing structure to process improvement. Kaizen is about continuously improving: everyday, everyone and everywhere. Many small improvements implemented with Kaizen produce faster results with less risk. In IT terms, we can equate this to a minor update to a piece of software.


Lean also recognises that there are moments that more radical, step change is necessary. This type of change is known as Kaikaku. This refers to a revolutionary change to the existing situation. Following the software example, Kaikaku would be the upgrade of an application currently in use from a release level to a new release level. Software providers will often substantially change both the technical basis of the software and its functionality. For both IT and the user community, this means a large step change.


A third type of improvement known within Lean is Kakushin. The idea here is that some change will form a complete departure from the current situation. It is about innovation, transformation, reform and renewal. Again, in our software example, this may mean replacing a complete application with a different application that supports the process in a completely different way, for example a web-based application that fully automates the registration of orders, the submission of invoices and the generation of a picking order at order ful llment. This kind of change will entail the disappearance of many roles and functions within a business. Both from technological and business process perspectives, this example represents a complete departure from the current way of working. Another example of Kakushin is where the organisation standardises a process and supporting software across the entire organisation where previously various groups had different processes and applications to achieve similar goals.