Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Zen'in keiei - more Japanese - every person a manager

There are a few words of Japanese that have permeated the lingo of Agile and Lean folk - Kanban and Kaizen being probably the two best know. Well, I recently discovered another one I think we should embrace.

A family friend works at Uniqlo in Moscow and I recently noticed a Japanese word on her LinkedIn profile and so I asked:

Zen'in keiei

This translates, broadly as: every person participates in decision making.

At Uniqlo - and it seems to be a Uniqlo only concept - this means "everyone manages", every staff member should be a business leader, act like owner, like manager, participate in decision making.

There are other explanations of this elsewhere on the Internet:

“Being the main players in the company, at all level” (Uniqlo values statement.)

“UNIQLO’s Zen-in Keiei philosophy, under which every employee adopts the mindset of a business manager, regardless of his or her position.” (Uniqlo HR documentation.)

“Zen-in Keiei: Everybody as a business leader...everybody should feel accountability and ownership as a part of UNIQLO” (Quizlet)

"One of the reasons for Uniqlo’s success in Japan is the notion of ‘zen-in keiei,’ which translates to “everyone as a business leader.” In Japan, people who are hired in the stores are told that they are a part of management, that they make very important decisions, and that they have the potential of making it all the way to the top. I think this concept is very foreign outside of Japan." Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi quoted on Reilly Brennan’s blog

Hopefully that give you a better idea of what we are talking about. I like the idea that everyone is in part a business leader and manager.

And look at that last quote, look at who said it, Hirotaka Takeuchi, better know to me as one of the authors of The Knowledge Creating Company and better know to many in the Agile community as one of the two authors of The New New Product Development Game.

I think this idea fits right in with how decisions are made in an effective modern (agile) software development environment. Its not about management, its about pushing authority and decisions down to the most appropriate level, and that level is the level the people actually doing the work - the people who are faced with the decision here and now.

These people need a decision now, and they have the most information about wha needs to be decided. Managers should be there to help them make good decisions not to make he decisions for them.

If this is good in a shop, in a retail environment, then isn’t it good for highly skilled technology workers?

This doesn’t remove the need for managers or management structures but it does change what management does - see my management series from earlier this year. And it also implies that many of those doing the work need more understanding of business and management and they need management skills - management for the masses!