ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - April 2002


Issue Highlight — Business as Usual
- Peter Block has been thinking about all the talk about getting back to business as usual and wonders whether business as unusual might not be better for the nation.

What Do You Mean by Participation?

“I come to work! I do my job! I do it well! Isn’t that participation?

Yes, in one sense just doing your job means you are contributing to the success of your company. But, I believe that the word “participation” has a deeper meaning. It means you are giving something additional than just doing what you are told to do. You are offering new ideas to change the way the work is done. These ideas can be given individually or through your work team.

It is a subtle but very powerful difference. Participa-tion really refers to when you are solving problems.

Of course, people on the job solve problems but there are few methodologies currently available that motivate people individually and on a continuous basis to solve problems. You might have team activities of some form, maybe quality control circles or self-directed work teams or some other name. They are wonderful activities but only cover part of the problem. Teams are working on group problems, but there are literally hundreds or thousands of small problems that are neglected by the average worker. Another method is needed, one that encourages individuals to come up with new ideas to make the work easier.

Just look around you and see the disarray—the scattered papers, boxes, tools, and supplies all over the place. Our goal is to be the highest quality producer, totally pleasing all of our customers. Our environment must reflect that goal. As an example, can you always find any tool or item you might need within 30 seconds?

As a test, how long would it take you to change your automobile’s four tires, fill it with gasoline, and change the windshield wiper blades? If you are very good, you might do it in one hour assuming no hidden problems like the jack not working properly or a tire not inflating. But how long does it take to do the exact same thing on Memorial Day at the Indianapolis 500? I timed a crew last year. It took them exactly 12 seconds. They worked as a precise team. People knew exactly what they had to do. People were superbly trained in their exact skill.

They knew that they could lose the race if they lost a single second.

Our workplace should, in reality, be the same:

  • Everyone should be superbly trained in his or her job.
  • Everyone should work as a precise team to get the job done exactly on time and always with the highest quality.

Finding better ways to do things is both a team and an individual effort. If you went back just a year ago to Indianapolis and it was taking your team 14 seconds to service a racer, those two seconds were the measure of victory. We all want to be part of the winning team.

Fine-tuning Your Company

Last November, I had the privilege of introducing a new methodology to Silicon Forest Electronics in Vancouver, WA, to help fine-tune the company. (Silicon is a surface-mount technology company in an industry that today is highly competitive for new business especially since the decline in high technology.) I call the method Quick and Easy Kaizen.

Kaizen means continuous improvement. Quick and Easy Kaizen is a system to:

  1. Change the method—do something different that prevents you from going back to the old ways of doing things.
  2. Utilize small ideas—you want people to consciously look to make changes/improvements and you want everyone to be involved. This can come from small ideas, one after the other. An example of a wonderful idea created by Linda Nash at Silicon was a fixture (see photo below) to prevent her chemicals from spilling.

    Another great idea was this wire holder developed by another operator at Silicon (see wire holder photo below).

    Each of these ideas is pretty small—so what’s the big deal? Imagine getting two ideas per month, per employee. Silicon with approximately 100 employees is now getting 200 new ideas per month.
  3. Change within realistic restrictions—if you don’t have enough money, or time, or people, then do Quick and Easy Kaizen—small changes. It doesn’t take a lot of money, time, or people to do it.

Isn’t This Just a New Name for an Old Suggestion System?

The old suggestion system first developed in America at Kodak in 1898 was like a Quick and Easy Kaizen system—when it began, but then it changed. The first submitted idea was to clean the windows. With poor lighting in those days this was an important idea. But the original system got lost, as it became a burden to management to implement the workers’ ideas. To make it easier for managers, the suggestion system shifted to a cost-savings system looking only for big ideas to save the company money. Small improvements were lost, as was the opportunity to get the employees involved with their own ideas.

Quick and Easy Kaizen is not like the old suggestion system whereby you submit an idea that someone else installs. With Quick and Easy Kaizen you come up with an idea and then implement it on your own; that makes work exciting. It is not an extra burden to managers. You simply encourage people to come up with lots and lots of small ideas:

  • They recognize a problem.
  • The workers come up with a solution.
  • They present the idea to their supervisor.
  • They implement it on their own.
  • The workers write up the idea (it takes only three minutes).
  • They post the idea on a bulletin board to share with others.
  • The idea generators discuss the idea with other workers.

We want people to copy each other’s ideas for we want everyone to be making continuous improvements.

So, Who Else Does Something Like This? Anyone Big?

In the early 1960s Japanese firms were noted for making junk—Toyota sent their first 60 cars back to Japan to be reworked. How did Toyota go from producing junk to leading the world in quality? Here is what they say:

“What sets us apart? The Toyota production system is at the heart of everything we do. Based on the concept of continuous improvement, or kaizen, Toyota team members are empowered with the ability to improve their work environment. This includes everything from quality and safety to the environment and productivity. Improvements and suggestions by team members are the cornerstone of Toyota’s success.”

Real participation happens when everyone is involved in creative activities. You are all on the right track; you just need the right tools and techniques to turn on the entire work force.

NORMAN BODEK is president of PCS Press in Vancouver, WA. He was called “Mr. Lean” by Quality Progress magazine in October 2001 and “Mr. Productivity” by Industry Week in 1990. Bodek’s most recent book is co-authored with Bunji Tozawa: The Idea Generator—Quick and Easy Kaizen. The book is available from or you may contact Bodek via e-mail at .

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April 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
We Said Teams Are Awesome— in Las Vegas, They Proved It!
Heroes Wear Scrubs Too
Upcoming AQP Courses at a Glance...
Bringing Corporate Philosophy Alive
An Open Invitation to a New Conversation
What Do You Mean by Participation?
Tools for Teams: The TetraMap®
Something Shifted

What’s Up?

Peter Block Column

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