Tim Hordern

I ♥ building amazing products and teams. QA + Product + DevOps + Fast = Awesome.


kai·zen (改善)

1. a business philosophy or system that is based on making positive changes on a regular basis, as to improve productivity.
2. an approach to one’s personal or social life that focuses on continuous improvement.
Origin: Japanese: “change for the best” or ‘continuous improvement’

If you learn nothing else about great teams, know this: great teams practice kaizen.

They might practice it consciously (by running retrospectives, holding reviews, etc.), or it might be unconscious (refactoring, removing tech debt, automating scripts, developing templates, etc.). But they do it at some level.

Don’t just think that agile magically means faster shipping, or the lean startup = do more stuff. Each of these ideas can be boiled down to:

  • try something
  • review what happened
  • take (some) action
  • repeat.

But don’t just apply it to your product, or your tech, or your team practices in isolation. True kaizen requires adopting that thinking everywhere: from moving the coffee cups closer to the coffee, to automating your manual acceptance tests, to running user tests on your product: each of these have elements of trial and learning.

If you’re continually improving as a team across all parts of your company, you don’t need to worry as much about marketing your recruitment pitch and you won’t need to work on retention. You won’t need to worry about how have such a great office. Give your team the flexibility to rapidly change and learn, and the budget and the trust to effect that change, and all of these things will happen organically. People will be banging on your door to work with you, because great teams attract great people.

Sidenote: you should aim to hire people who think of this naturally. If you hire people who don’t want to do this, and you don’t incentivise them to think of it, they will fall back to doing the best of a pointless job: they’ll write lots of slow code, or manually test everything, or manually create Excel charts for every report, because they have no reason to improve. Instead, you should look to identify people that help build a culture of improvement.