Fujifilm & Kaizen Revisited

A while back I wrote about the Japanese business approach known as kaizen. The entry can be found here. I see a lot (well, a fair amount) written about kaizen now in relation to Fujifilm / X-Series cameras. I hadn’t noticed any of this before I wrote my article and it was picked up and subsequently spread around via some of the X-Series dedicated ScoopIt blogs, so I suspect my original entry may have had something to do with this idea (in relation to Fujifilm) spreading so much.

I also wrote a little while later about the idea of kaikaku. You can see the entry here. This one does not seem to have been picked up with the same vigour (at all in fact, as far as I can tell).

Recently it has been rumoured that Fujifilm will stop updating firmware for older X-Series models and not offer older models the newest improvements, film simulations, etc. This, in some quarters, had produced reactions ranging from sadness to outrage. Some have even claimed that “kaizen is dead.” What flows is a reworking of a comment I left here on Fuji Rumours.

Kaizen is the Japanese name for a general business / corporate / manufacture approach where problems (of any sort) or possibilities for improvement (of any sort) are identified locally / at site throughout the entire company at any level from top management to the lowest positions, and small refinements are then made at this local level.

It’s important to understand that this is an ongoing, continuous process and that it happens at all steps / stages of supply, manufacture, distribution, etc. It’s common to many corporations and not specific to only a few. It’s not a philosophy that gets applied to only one aspect of a single product range, and it certainly doesn’t simply mean to keep improving a product.

I may be wrong, but I’m not aware that Fujifilm has ever stated they specifically follow a kaizen approach (and referencing the above paragraphs, if they do, it will be in relation to absolutely everything, and not limited to only firmware).

This notion (that Fujiflim firmware updates in of themselves are something defined as kaizen) seems to have become widespread after someone (um, me) speculated in a blog (um, here) about whether or not the idea of kaizen could be a useful framework with which to attempt to understand or interpret what Fujifilm was doing with it’s frequent firmware updates (and nothing more). In effect, I was offering a possible alternate to the then common view that Fujifilm’s firmware updates in of themselves where some kind of proof of incomplete or unfinished products. The nuance that seems to have developed about what kaizen is, is neither what I stated nor intended.

Now, reading here and there in internet-land, I see rampant outrage at the (unfounded) idea that Fujifilm has abandoned users / kaizen / whatever. Examining this, again within the framework of kaizen (or even kaikaku – regardless of whether or not either of these are actually happening), one could say giving up on firmware updates of older models may actually be kaizen (or kaikaku) in action. From the kaizen perspective, a problem or area for improvement has been identified (for the company – not the product), and then a refinement acted upon. From the kaikaku perspective, a problem or area for improvement has been identified (for the company – not the product), and then a one time complete change has been acted upon.

Either way, these are just ideas I’m putting out as frameworks to hang thoughts off in the attempt to understand what might be happening. The reality (if the rumour turns out to be true), is probably much more like a simple ‘oh, that costs too much, let’s stop it.’

Peace, and all that.

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