What is Kaikaku?

Kaikaku is one of these Japanese words which found their way into the Lean lingo. Kaikaku is usually translated into “radical change” or breakthrough.

my tiny Japanese dictionary proposes “reform”, “renovation” and “reorganization”.

“Doing” kaikaku means introducing a major change in a process in order to drastically improve it (quantum leap). Kaikaku is therefore “opposed” to Kaizen, which is incremental, small steps, improvement.

Lisez-moi en français

Kaizen is often praised for being a safe and low-cost improvement way. By changing only one thing at a time and trying allows to observe the effect of the change and to learn from this experience.

Kaikaku will discard much if not all from the existing solution and introduce big change(s). The usual set of parameters and previous accumulated learning may not be useful anymore. The new process is likely to be unstable until all new influencing parameters are fully understood and under control. Therefore Kaikaku is feared as risky.

Yet Kaikaku is not all bad. Once Kaizen has given all that can be reasonably achieved (timely and in terms of Return Of Investment), a radical change may be the only option to improve further.

Kaikaku is often understood as innovation, bringing in some high-tech or top-notch technology.

Indeed, if a manufacturer changes his production way from cutting away material to additive manufacturing (3D printing to make it simple), it is a disruption and potentially a quantum leap in productivity, efficiency, lead time, customizing, etc.

Kaikaku can be more mundane than that, like reorganising the way of operating for instance.

I remember working for Yamaha music, assembling home cinema receivers and CD players, when we heard the headquarter was planning a switch from long linear conveyor belt assembly lines into small autonomous cells, it was kaikaku because it was disrupting decades of streamlined production.


Chris Hohmann in Yamaha’s headquarter, Hamamatsu city

Many Kaizen events (also called kaizen blitz) are in fact small kaikakus where drastic changes are made in short time. Those events are not the best way for try-and-learn, it’s more often one expert moderating a workgroup and leading it to a disruptive solution, hence kaikaku.

If you’d like to share your thoughts or experience, use the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “What is Kaikaku?

  1. Pingback: What is Kaikaku? | Chris Hohmann | TLS - TOC, L...

  2. Hi Chris,
    Yes, Kiakaku is the direct antithesis of kaizen activities. By its very nature the intent behind pursing dramatic change (aka transformation or reengineering) is – ideally speaking – to reset or elevate the existing performance potential of an organization to a much higher-order level of competencies and capabilities. And, in so doing, it can have the effect of creating “DISCONTINUITIES” within the existing organization. Most typically, those DISCONTINUITIES manifest themselves in both the LINGUISTIC and TECHNOLOGICAL arenas. To be more specific, the changes that are being introduced to an organization are often accompanied by new technologies, new ways of THINKING AND BEHAVING, and often require new ways of communicating among the stakeholders involved. As a result, IF sufficient time, attention, and effort have not been put into identifying these discontinuities and taking the steps necessary to familiarize the stakeholders with the new THINKING, BEHAVING, SPEAKING/COMMUNICATING patterns needed to function both efficient and effectively at this elevated level of competency and capability, there will likely be undesirable disruptions or hurdles that need to be overcome in realizing the desired/targeted performance improvements… at least temporarily in the short term.
    Given that many companies/organizations competing in the 21st century – and beyond – MUST survive at least in part by that Top Gun motto… SPEED IS LIFE, there often is not much leeway in the time required to realize the desired level of performance improvement. THAT’S WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT FOR ORGANIZATIONS TO BE ENGAGED IN or WITH KAIKAKU INITIATIVES in an OFF-LINE manner LONG BEFORE ACTUALLY UNDERTAKING THE INTENDED CHANGES. And the BEST way to undertake Kaikaku initiatives of this type is to begin them and subsequently prove them out in what I refer to as a SANDBOX (i.e., safe and structured) LEARNING ENVIRONMENT where the necessary levels of experimental problem-solving and rapid/adaptive learning can be undertaken without putting the entire organization (along with the participating stakeholders) at risk. Why is this sort of approach desirable – or, for that matter, an IMPERATIVE? Well, the simple answer can be found in something that Arie de Geus observed and highlighted during his tenure as the head of Royal Dutch Shell’s Strategic Planning Group and which I have subsequently tweaked… “The only truly sustaining competitive advantage that can be achieved by any company/organization is the SPEED with which it is capable of LEARNING;” and I like to add — “and thereby… ADAPTING!” Ergo, Kaikaku represents a MAJOR LEARNING OPPORTUNITY, both in its successes and its failures.


  3. Pingback: What is Kaikaku? | Chris Hohmann | Leverage DDM...

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