Applying Kaizen In Overcoming Obstacles To Growth


Reaching obstacles within a team can be very demoralizing. The first step in tackling challenges that arise in a project is developing a shared understanding of the root of the problems, then prioritizing the problems based on shared strategic goals.

Getting To The Root Of The Problem

Not all problems are as they seem. At Toyota, they believe in Kaizen (改善 - Japanese for "good change") as part of their commitment to ongoing improvement through the optimization of their operational processes. The initial stage of Kaizen is flagging any problems that arise. Once a problem has been identified, the team then implements a series of questions - specifically, the 5 “Whys”.

Applying the 5 “Whys” to an obstacle I’ve faced in helping my client, a luxury watch brand, identify how to improve their digital strategy:

Problem: The bounce rates on our website are really high.

Why? Maybe because the layout is confusing or content is not compelling.

Why? Because we haven’t done any competitive analysis or user research and haven’t tested different layouts or content to know what might work best.

Why? Because we didn’t think our website would be that important.

Why? Because we didn’t know that all our users are now searching for us online.

Why? Because we don’t have anyone on our team focused on digital.

Obviously, the conversation doesn’t unfold as literally a series of “why” questions, but a rather as a natural questioning of certain processes and assumptions. What seemed as a relatively focused, small problem about bounce rates in the beginning revealed an organizational weakness of the company that was contributing to potential losses of millions in revenue.

Developing a plan of action for fixing the underlying issue will allow the solution to flow upstream, with a positive domino effect that would lead to improvement.

In application, I addressed this problem by starting at the root:

Root Problem: We don’t have anyone on our team focused on digital.

Short Term Fix: Provide training to team on key trends in the digital/tech space.

Long Term Fix: Recommend building a team that is focused on digital.

In order to achieve the desired result, developing a strong case through the digital and recommended plan of attack is key. In building a case, I always focus on the following:

Egos: The most important part is establishing credibility and building trust. Why should someone believe you or care about what you have to say? Be as prepared and well-researched as possible, know the industry, players, and market well. Ask yourself tough questions and invite tough questions as well. Answer with transparency. Have a process and approach for thinking through the problem.

Pathos: Humans are ultimately emotional creatures and appealing to emotions by building rapport and setting forth an inspiring vision. Get hearts pumping, faces smiling.

Logos: Finally, bring out the numbers and appeal to logic. Show and explain the data and impact.  

Building these three aspects into a presentation is crucial in persuading a team to rally behind a singular goal to overcome any obstacles to growth. In this particular case, the results came quickly.

Result #1: Training led to curiosity and urgency to improve current situation by investing in building a strong plan of attack.

Result #2: Building a plan required having a team help lead user, competitive, and design research as well as begin testing site prototypes.

Result #3: Testing, research, and original creative direction led to optimized website design with compelling content.

Solution Achieved: Bounce rates to the website dropped from 71% to 40% and click-thrus increased by 10%.

The 5 Whys highlights the importance of adhering to process - without process, jumping into brainstorming solutions can lead to missing key contributors to the problem. Applying the “kaizen” mindset and approach ensures that no stones are left unturned, team members all adopt a philosophy of curiosity, and the process behind achieving the result itself is also opitimized.

Victoria YoungComment