Kaizen Camp

Kaizen means "continuous improvement," as in, question your process. It is never complete, never perfect. Recently a cross-section of Substantialites attended Kaizen Camp, where we joined other leaders, engineers, designers and consultants from a range of industries to engage in a game-like discussion in the Open Space or Lean Coffee format. Basically, it’s an agenda-less, democratic meeting that has the potential to take you in unanticipated directions, with topics wholly created by whomever shows up. The core framework leverages personal Kanban to visualize work in progress, and the thread that carries through Kaizen Camp is personal and organizational improvement.

As a company that works with lean/agile/kanban principles & practices, Kaizen Camp was a universally positive experience for us. It reinforced the benefits to our people and output, specifically why focusing on optimizing value and reducing waste is such a good thing for everyone involved. It’s gratifying to know we’re not the only people trying to work in this way and it’s validating to get the perspective of how much we have evolved - not to mention how damn lucky we are to have a vital culture of fun, learning and constant improvement. We enjoyed hearing stories from other folks at Spotify, University of Washington, REI, Adobe, Nordstrom, Yammer, and more. The agile/lean conversation is alive and anti-hero, team-focused work is in action in different places.

Valuable conversations brought different ideas - and more questions - to light for us. How can we provide better strategic services for our clients? Where are we acting more as a vendor than a partner? How are we validating our work and know we are doing the right thing? How are we building in "slack" to our work stream to make room for variation, learning and innovation? What is the most important part of building a product? Is there a more "agile" performance review system that could work for us? What is the benefit of quick team rotations? How can we be more inventive in our problem solving? Should we try to incorporate the Lean Coffee format and Kanban into more of our work and maybe our personal life?

The point here is to keep asking and to not settle. How are things happening? Why are things happening? Make adding value the hero of your process, not the process itself. Empower yourself, your teams and your company to uncover, analyze and interpret what is working and what isn't. Kanban and the Open Space format is a way to add some structure and fun to what can seem like a potentially messy or daunting conversation. We thoroughly enjoyed our Kaizen Camp experience, and we'd recommend it highly if one is held near you (recent sessions have included Saigon and Melbourne).

Until then, keep on moving and keep on improving.