Suggestion Programs

Some people have said that the pinnacle of lean programs is an effective suggestion program, whether its called quick and easy kaizen or an idea program or simple everyday work that has no name. Too many companies want to jump to this too early in their efforts, and end up failing. Why do they fail? 1. We skip both education and enlightenment. Enlightenment is simply helping people understand the why of doing this. Education is the how and what. Too often we ask for people’s ideas and then when we get them, we find out they are the wrong ideas. 2. We don’t focus people on their own work. Instead of utilizing people’s expertise, which is their jobs, we ask for ideas on anything. There are some ideas that people have that are vastly outside their area, but when we just said “ideas” we get mostly stuff that people don’t know about. Worse still is that many of them are not ideas but requests. It becomes a forum for people to complain about anything from the food in the cafeteria to their benefits plan. 3. We turn this system into a centralized bureaucracy. Too often there is a central committee that has to sift through all the ideas, get additional information, disposition them to various resources and try to manage the whole thing. The best systems have ideas going immediately to your supervisor, not to some centralized resource. What other problems have you seen with companies launching suggestion programs?

The photo is a recent example of what I’ve seen. Not only is it a place that’s anonymous, it’s away from the actual work areas and perhaps worst, it’s locked. Needless to say, not many ideas get dropped into these boxes.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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2 Comments on "Suggestion Programs"

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  1. Mark Graban says:

    Death to suggestion boxes. Long live suggestions!

    You’re right on, Jamie. Kaizen is not about bureaucratic management-driven suggestion processes. After I left GM, I got a letter in the mail about 18 months afterward. One of my suggestions had finally been reviewed by all-knowning management and was rejected. Thank goodness they forwarded the yellow copy of that form back to me, as I had long-since forgotten what my idea was.

    Kaizen and suggestions should be experiments and discussions among the work team and the supervisor.

  2. Jamie Flinchbaugh says:

    Perhaps that idea is the difference between GM being in the dumps and being world-class. Perhaps you should resubmit it.

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