Keep It Simple

A lean approach to promoting employee suggestions

by Scott Force

A key element of lean thinking is highly visible processes. Being able to discern the state of a process at a glance allows problems to be identified and addressed quickly. A visual dashboard is a great tool to see how a process is moving toward a goal so course corrections, if needed, can be made as soon as possible. When applying this thinking to unused employee creativity, one of Toyota’s eight wastes of lean, a visual process helps highlight the progress of an employee suggestion as it moves through the review and implementation process.

Many organizations use suggestion boxes or databases to manage employee suggestions. While these approaches have merit, it is often difficult for the employee making the suggestion to easily identify where their idea is in the review process.

The diagram in Figure 1 lays out a simple plan, do, check, act (PDCA) approach to a visual dashboard to help employees see the progress of their suggestions.

Figure 1

Plan Create the dashboard on a prominently displayed whiteboard or flipchart, for example. An employee can write their name and suggestion on a Post-it note and place it in the first quadrant of the dashboard. The Post-it note ensures a short, succinct idea is captured and the employee’s name allows for follow-up, if necessary.

Do The second quadrant is where a Post-it note is moved after leadership has started reviewing the suggestion. If clarification is needed or other questions arise, the Post-it note is moved to the third quadrant, which visually indicates to the employee who made the suggestion that he or she must follow up with the appropriate person to provide more details or answer questions about the suggestion.

Check If the suggestion is not viable due to actions already in motion, cost or HR concerns, for example, the Post-it note is placed in the bottom left of the whiteboard or flipchart in an area outside of the diagram labeled, "Suggestions not feasible at this time." Follow-up is encouraged if the employee desires further explanation regarding why his or her suggestion cannot move forward.

Act Finally, ideas that are viable for a more detailed review for implementation in a kaizen event or just-do-it actions are placed in the fourth quadrant to start the true PDCA process.

Creativity—Use it or lose it

This simple, low-tech approach maintains the visual process and easily communicates where each suggestion is in the PDCA process without the need for email, databases or other technological means.

One of the common phrases in continuous improvement thinking is, "Creativity before capital." This approach allows continuous improvement practitioners to creatively display a suggestion process at little to no cost, and can be modified easily to meet the needs of the department using it.

Lastly, the key item is the need for action. If it is weeks before suggestions are reviewed or employees see little movement in the Post-it notes, the process will be stalled and employee creativity will continue to be wasted. 

Scott Force is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with more than 26 years of quality improvement experience. He earned a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Miami University in Oxford, OH. A senior member of ASQ, Force is an ASQ-certified quality technician, engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt.

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