Japan Lean Tour – Learning 1 – Improving your organisation everyday




“Improve what we can, now, one step at a time.”

Mr. KOSAKA, former Toyota plant manager



Many organisations we see put in place suggestion boxes to gather bottom up ideas. Often, they struggle to  create enthusiasm around this system. When asking people, the same answer often comes back: “We have lots of ideas but nothing happens if we share them”. People often seem perplex.

It is also true that boxes are sometimes put in place but the concept is not explained, not clear to everyone, no feedback or follow-up is provided.

However, once set up in the right way, such a system becomes very powerful by generating impactful bottom up ideas and making people feel valued and listened to.


Here are 4 hints to make it work:


1. Define the process behind the box. How are you going to manage suggestions? How will they be followed up? What feedback are you going to give, in what way and by whom? How are you going share responsibilities of implementing these ideas? What’s the decision process?


2. Inform everyone about what is going to happen, also focusing on the process behind to manage these ideas as defined above. Use this first information session to ask people to share their first ideas on paper and put it in the box to launch the dynamic straight away.


3. Set an objective, visualize and measure performance against this objective. Is your objective to generate at least 1 idea per week? Then visualize this indicator on a visual board to make it transparent to everyone and discuss it frequently. The objective is not reached? Answer the question: what is retaining people from giving their ideas? And take action directly.


4. Review your objective at least on a yearly basis. Why not go to 2 ideas per week if 1 per week is reached?


Then go to the next level.

In the above process, management validates all ideas and defines whether they are relevant or not. Building a deep Continuous Improvement culture goes beyond that. The ultimate goal here should be to build the highest level of trust and problem solving skills throughout the organisation so management control is not relevant anymore. Teams of workers or employees are free to implement their ideas - solving a problem they have identified - straight away without waiting for management’s approval. Building strong problem solving skills is essential to eliminate the reflex of saying, “we need investment” without truly understanding the problem and avoiding looking for the low hanging fruits that often require zero CAPEX.


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