By Charles Alvarez , Contributor, the Price of Business Show. * Sponsored
W. Edwards Deming developed and introduced his quality improvement methods into Japanese manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s. In two decades, Japanese products, which had been referred to as “Jap scrap,” became synonymous with “quality” and “superb engineering.” These quality improvement methods took Japan from a country that had been completely destroyed in 1945 to the number-two economic power in the world within one generation. This transformation was built on the Japanese process called “kaizen” which means “continuous betterment,” or “continuous improvement.”
Each employee of every Japanese company is encouraged to look for improvements that they can make in their “line of sight.” What the Japanese found, and what you will find within your own business, is that there are always little things that can be done to improve quality or to increase efficiency in virtually every job. These improvements help the company adapt to changes in the market or in technology.
Analogous to the principle of maneuver, the kaizen strategy keeps the staff of a company constantly on the alert to changing situations. These opportunities for improvement are usually right in front of you, right in your line of sight. They may be very small ways to increase efficiency taken one idea at a time, but the cumulative effect of hundreds and then thousands of little improvements, “continuous betterment” can lead to extraordinary increases in efficiency and productivity over time.
The kaizen technique is applied at every level of Japanese business and industry, from the entry-level employee sweeping the dock to the highest level executive running a worldwide business. What makes the technique effective is that each per- son is encouraged to try out his or her ideas on a small scale. There is seldom any need to get permission or authorization from a senior manager. The improvement can be quickly tested and modified right there at the workplace. If it is a successful modification, the results are shared with similar employees throughout the company. And the process never stops.
Look around you at your work. Where do opportunities exist for you to cut costs, increase the speed of an activity or process, reduce inefficiencies, or improve quality? Remember the song “Little Things Mean a Lot”? It is the same with continuous improvement. Hundreds and thousands of small improvements, spread over months and years, add up to an extraordinarily successful and profitable business. They mean a lot in terms of reduced costs and increased profits.
Nominal Group Technique
This is one of the most powerful creative thinking tools of all. It is simple, effective, and easy to use. You begin by creating a partial sentence that requires you to complete the statement.
Here is an example: “We could double our sales if . . . .” You complete this sentence with as many different ideas as you can think of.
You could use a statement like this: “We could double the number of referrals that we get from our customers if we only . . . .” How would you complete this sentence? Sit everyone down around the table and commit to generating at least twenty answers to the statement. The quality of the ideas generated by this technique is often amazing.
Once you have developed a few good answers, resolve to take action on at least one of those ideas immediately. Try it out. See what happens. Get feedback, and make corrections. Often the original idea will need to be modified to work effectively. One great idea to double your sales or your referrals can lead to an enormous surge in business and profitability.
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