Sometimes, even smart people just don’t get it.
A university professor has written a column in The New York Times suggesting that the Web is proving to be the ideal environment for a kaizen approach. Unfortunately, he doesn’t understand what kaizen is.
Hal Varian, professor of business, economics and information at the
Not exactly. Our LeanSpeak dictionary defines kaizen as “the gradual, incremental and continual improvement of activities so as to create more value and less non-value-adding waste.”
To the uninformed, the differences may seem subtle. However, the key point that Varian misses is the underlying lean focus on improvement, on adding value, on eliminating waste.
To illustrate his point about the Web, Varian notes that “it is simple to run a controlled experiment with a Web page. Amazon can show a different page layout to every hundredth visitor and determine in a few days whether the new design increases sales.”
That’s true. And that kind of experimentation can be very valuable to a business.
But if you try a variety of Web page layouts, then pick the one that produces the most sales, how is that kaizen? What waste has been eliminated? What process has been improved? One Web page – or more broadly, one marketing strategy – may be more effective than another, but finding a more effective marketing approach is not in of itself process improvement.
There are undoubtedly ways in which the speed and flexibility of the Web are being used for continuous improvement. The technology can make it possible to, for example, eliminate process steps, reduce cycle time or increase throughput. That’s a point that Varian could have made, but didn’t.
Varian is an accomplished professional and the author not only of a monthly column in the Times, but also of many books, most having to do with economics and/or information technology.
He is not an authority on lean. I would suggest that he study the subject further before he tries to speak like one.