The Power of Ideas from Everyone

Too few companies on the Lean journey have effectively incorporated what is known as “teian” or suggestion schemes for employees’ creative ideas. Although kaizen breakthrough activity may seem more dramatic and appealing, it is the slow trickle of creative ideas over many years that has kept companies like Toyota on the forefront of Lean and kaizen as well as business performance.
One type of kaizen is the “kaizen event” or “kaizen blitz” that brings together a team for several days to a week or more to radically redesign workflow. The other type of kaizen, the foundation of persistent long-term improvement, is the creative idea suggestion system.
Over the last several years, Toyota has been reporting anywhere from 10 to 12 creative ideas implemented per person, per year as part of their suggestions scheme. This has been going on for over 50 years at Toyota. It is a part of the fabric of their culture, training system, and management.
In Japan alone, there were 580,000 ideas implemented in 2003. Millions and millions of creative ideas are being implemented every few years by thinking Toyota employees. How could any company manage so many suggestions? It would seem like supervisors and managers would have not time to do anything but review the suggestions and approve or deny them. Part of the secret lies in the fact that Toyota reports at 99% implementation rate for kaizen ideas by employees.
Supervisors and managers encourage and even require thinking about kaizen ideas by their staff. This involves training and coaching so that ideas that may not be good suggestions are developed over time into ideas that can be implemented, at a rate of about one per month. It is part of a supervisor’s daily job to help his or her team think about their work and find ways to make it better.
Many of these ‘teian’ or kaizen ideas, are small improvements in quality, safety, productivity, environmental management, etc. Some of these ideas may be the type of improvements we make without thinking about it, or writing them down to keep track. Some of them may save a $1, and a few of them may save thousands of dollars.
Almost every manager at a company with a healthy suggestion program will say that the financial results from these creative kaizen ideas are not what is most important. What is more important is to have everyone thinking everyday about improving their work, everyday.
Toyota has in effect turned every worker into a “knowledge worker”, to some extent, through their commitment to the creative idea suggestion system, or kaizen by everyone everyday.

3 Comments

  1. Robert

    February 28, 2008 - 2:14 am

    Dear Mr Miller,
    could you give me more information about the Toyota Suggestion System, do they reward every of the 580,000 ideas, what kind of reward system does Toyota have? Thank you in advance for answering!
    Robert P. Schulte
    Idea Management Volkswagen AG Wolfsburg

  2. Jon Miller

    March 6, 2008 - 8:14 am

    Dear Mr. Schulte,
    The posts on March 4th and March 5th may answer your question, at least in part.
    Jon

  3. Tasneem Alam

    June 18, 2009 - 2:14 am

    Most Japanese companies would pay out all the Kaizens the reason is appreciation and after all a few Kaizens bring a payback way than you pay for all the Kaizens presented.