Ready to get answers and solve real problems... easily? Meet Kaizen.

Kaizen is a Japanese word for improvement and on the face of it seems so simple it can be dismissed, it is however a powerful problem solving technique. As a big part of web design and User Experience (UX) design is solving problems for businesses, Kaizen therefore fits in very well and can be utilised and leveraged.

It's the process of asking the question Why 5 times. Although in some cases it can be much greater or even less than 5. When sitting down with prospective clients many questions should be asked and even very mundane ones. You shouldn’t feel silly abut asking obvious questions, you are retrieving vital information and setting a base for further research. It's all very well about reading about some 'wacky' Japanese technique but lets see it in action:

Example 1: 1 hour late for work

  • Why were you late for work? The car ran out of petrol
  • Why did the car run out of petrol? I forgot to fill up last night
  • Why did you forget to fill up? I was very tired and rushing to the gym
  • Why were you tired? I had a late night the night before
  • Why were you late the night before? A few drinks got out of hand after work
  • Why did you go out for drinks? We lost a contract

It can even go a lot further, but you are drilling down and in this example being late for work transpired from an event at work days and even months previously. It provokes thought and gets answers. Now onto a more context related scenario:

Example 2: The clients Google Rankings have dropped considerably over the period of a year

  • Why have the rankings dropped? We have been overtaken by competitors
  • Why you you been overtaken? The competitors have more industry relationships
  • Why do they have more industry relationships? The competitors have invested in resources
  • Why have they invested in resources? They see the value in better rankings
  • Why do they see value? The online market niche is worth over 5 millions pounds per year and growing 20% year on year
  • Why is this market growing and worth so much? The Internet has transformed how people shop and find information

This could go even further yet again. In this example we have gone from dropped rankings to asking the examining questions. Of course some of these are completely obvious but written down and documented this becomes incredibly useful when looking at results in UX and marketing campaigns. You are getting underneath your clients business by asking the simple question “Why?” about top level problems and getting closer to real answers.

Example 3: A customer complaint from one of our very first customers

  • Why has this complaint been filed? She had problems with making an online purchase
  • Why did she have problems? She is not used to making online purchases
  • Why is she not used to it? Technology has advanced a lot in recent years and has not be shown how fully by sales / customer support
  • Why has she not been tutored? Jane in customer support is not used to using the system herself and does not yet know all the ins and out of the website
  • Why is she not totally familiar with the system? New features have been added and has not yet been introduced to them
  • Why hasn't she been introduced? The web department has yet to provide full training to internal employees

The customer complaint has come in not because the website necessarily hard to use, but maybe because communication between different people and/or departments needs to be improved. When talking about keeping customers and improving UX this just does not solely involve a website. It is the whole customer experience: in person, in emails and in instruction: every touch point! This customer is an extreme case that is having problems has never used an E-commerce system. Providing her with some dedicated time will make her feel even more valued. The result of Kaizen in this case raises questions and doesn't magically provide a single solution but it does make the business think of steps how to improve.

In these 3 examples we have seen going from a problem to getting a much better understanding at the problem at hand, getting to the root cause. Kaizen may be very straight forward and even too basic for some, but it can be and is useful to many organisations and successful businesses throughout the world. Try it.