Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates into "change for the better". In Lean Management and Agile, we use it to refer to the concept of continuous improvement. This term is used to emphasize the mindset that improvement should be continuous, gradual, and structured, involving every process and member in what we are trying to accomplish. This mindset of continuous improvement is necessary for teams to improve on an ongoing basis and is a cornerstone of an Agile organization.
The Kaizen mindset is more difficult to achieve in distributed settings because this culture is usually influenced by positive or negative reinforcement, which is difficult to do remotely. How communication and collaboration are viewed can drastically affect a team’s ability to recognize and remove impediments.
This mindset and ideology can be tricky to implement and fully integrate unless the team has been working together for a long time. There are no rules or special recipes that can fit every team perfectly. With so many variables, you must continuously adjust and adapt to different circumstances and individual differences.
In distributed Kaizen, online collaboration is critical. In general, Kaizen is separated into three pillars, which can be adapted to distributed settings. Recognizing these three categories as the foundations for improvement can facilitate conversations revolving around improvement action items.
· People - The pillar for waste can be adapted to represent the inefficiencies in collaboration and communication in a remote setting. Recognizing and determining the best way to eliminate inefficiencies is one way to represent this pillar.
· Tools - The pillar for the workplace relates to the environment that the team works from. In a distributed environment, the tools used are the most significant factors to be improved concerning this pillar.
· Process - The pillar for standardization represents the processes that the team takes to achieve their goals. This pillar considers the agreements and team temperament toward growth and adaptation to changing circumstances, along with the formalized approach to improving operations.
Preventing the teams from moving forward better and faster should be considered an impediment. Thus, Kaizen and impediments are closely related; the more impediments that are removed, the more improvements the teams make. So how can we foster a culture that is hypersensitive to impediment removal? We focus on the people, process, and tools.
Ensure that everyone understands they are responsible for impediment removal - regardless of their role in the organization. Team members are first expected to solve the problem by self-organizing. The impediment is only escalated if they tried their best but are still not able to solve the impediment.
Agree on a single source of truth for the impediments – Choose a tool to log, share, and update impediments. It's essential that everyone involved has access to this tool and that the impediment backlog visually radiates. Also, be sure to have a standard template for recording the impediment. This template should be brief but should contain enough information to understand the impact and possible solution.
Establish and follow an escalation process – Now that you have the people committed and the impediment backlog in place, its important that everyone follow a process to resolve the impediment as quickly as possible. Sharing the impediment backlog items that need addressing during the Daily Scrum is an effective way to stay on top of impediments. The individual teams can then escalate the relevant impediments to the Scrum of Scrum in the case that they are not able to solve the problem and need external help. This pattern can continue all the way to the executive level until it finds the right owners that can address the problem.
If you find yourself in a Distributed Team, keep in mind that kaizen and impediment removal go hand in hand to move your team forward better and faster.