How to stifle improvement in your organisation

I was working on an assignment in a manufacturing organisation as part of a project team looking to improve the operational effectiveness of the non-manufacturing business processes.  I am not a fan of suggestion schemes, but to stimulate interest in the programme, we decided to create a special award for the best waste elimination suggestion.  

A few months into the programme, as part of one of the monthly business communication meetings, the Operations Director was questioned about a suggestion in this category which had been rejected.  The suggestion came from someone in the Purchasing area and it was to replace a cap that went on the final product with one that was a third of the price.  The questioner could not understand how such a simple suggestion had been rejected and in fact, nor could the Operations Director. 

When we investigated the review of this idea, we found that the original cap had been included in the design of the product, and therefore to replace the old cap with the new one would have required a design change request.  The person who reviewed and rejected the suggestion judged that the cost of taking the suggestion through the design change process would have outweighed the cost saving of replacing the original cap with the new one.  

This greatly frustrated the Operations Director who felt that we were stifling important improvement ideas by the complexity of our business processes.  

We immediately took 3 actions:

  1. The first action was to accept the idea and fast track it through the design change system.  
  2. The second action was to ensure that in future we did not include detailed specifications for proprietary items in the product design.
  3. The third action was to look at redesigning the change request process.

The redesign of the change request process is another story, but it is important to realise that this needs to be a process that evaluates ideas quite thoroughly because a change to the product can affect the safety of the unit and therefore the safety of our customers and our customers’ customers.  However, we have many suggestions, like the one that got rejected, that do not affect the form, fit or function of the unit, and therefore we need to find a way of fast-tracking them through the process.  

In conclusion, it is important that we implement improvements in our organisations to ensure that we have ongoing development and growth.  On the other hand, where we have business processes that stifle innovation and creativity, we are going to find that not only do we restrict our growth, but we also harm the commitment and engagement of our teams, in the future of our organisations.   

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