The Top 10 Suggestion System Stumbles and How to Avoid Them

By Jon Miller Updated on February 9th, 2021

Are you looking to implement an organizational suggestion system? Perhaps you already have one in place, but aren’t satisfied with the program? Read on to see our top 10 stumbles to avoid in your own suggestion system programs.

10. Delays in approving ideas

Respond within the day to team member ideas whenever possible. The approval may be a “go do it” or to give coaching to ideas that require further thought and development. For complex or large ideas, respond within a week, or encourage the idea generator (person) to break the problem down into several smaller parts.

9. Complex approval process (committees)

The approval process should be genchi genbutsu (go see, discuss and approve) by the team leader or supervisor. It’s better to go see the actual issue in the actual place than to discuss the issue in a conference room based on ideas written on a piece of paper.

8. Backlog of suggestions needing approval or implementation

Ironically, asking for quantity over quality will force the identification of smaller problem that are easier to solve. This reduces the backlog as more of them are “just do it” ideas. This increases the skill and confidence of people to go through the problem solving process (thinking) as well as the action itself (experimentation).

7. Less than 99% of ideas implemented

An idea should be nurtured and the idea generator (person) should be coached so that basically every idea is approved. Provide guidelines on what is a good kaizen idea (e.g. small, very specific issues that focus on getting rid of 7 wastes + safety + environmental issues, etc.). Track approval rating visually and have a management team problem solve the gap between current condition and 99% implemented.

6. Inappropriate kaizen suggestions

Once again, clear guidelines for what is a good kaizen idea. Focus on the customer, improve your own work, keep SQDCM and environmental targets from hoshin (management policies) in mind. Process focus, not people issues, are appropriate.

5. Allowing anonymous suggestions

This defeats the purpose of kaizen as a people development tool since you cannot coach the idea generator. Sure, it’s ok to allow anonymous suggestions where people feel need to “blow the whistle”, but this indicates that the workplace is not safe professionally, emotionally or physically and is not a stable environment for kaizen or Lean. Fix that condition before launching suggestion systems and anonymous suggestions won’t be an issue.

4. Unfair rewards

Every idea should receives a small reward. Larger awards may be given based on several categories such as effort, creativity, impact, etc. of the kaizen idea. Encouraging kaizen idea generation, development and implementation by teams, and giving team rewards also reduces the chance of unfair rewards being given to individuals.

3. Motivating by cash only

Since humans are at the heart of kaizen, and humans need both extrinsic (cash) and intrinsic motivation, sustained kaizen requires intrinsic motivation such as recognition, self-actualization, skill development, feeling fulfilled, or saving the environment through kaizen suggestions. Management attention and leadership is required.

2. Lack of promotion and support of the kaizen suggestion program

Promote kaizen in all its forms (not just suggestion systems or kaizen events) in a variety of ways. Take a long-term view of kaizen a people development and communication strategy. Start by encouraging idea generation by teams, and aiming for quantity over quality. Hold periodic “championships” or promotional events based on themes.

1. Lack of timely implementation

You can do all of this well and still not get the ideas put in place quickly enough if resources (time, money, materials, skills) are not sufficient for the number of great ideas your team members are generating. The skill matrix is a great enabler for suggestion systems. Once again, the management should take this on as a jishuken theme and evaluate the gaps in the 4Ms (manpower, material, machine, method) resources to keep suggestions moving smoothly.

And a bonus for reading this far:

0.5 Calling it a suggestion system

It is better to find a unique name that links the suggestion program with your ongoing kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma or other continuous improvement efforts so that it becomes a part of your culture and a part of your management system. The suggestion system is not about suggestions. It is a way to develop the creativity, craft skills and awareness. So find a proper name for it.

What is your experience?

Have you had an suggestion system program go great? How about one that fails? Let us know in the comments so we can all learn from our success and failures.

  1. Mark Graban

    June 11, 2007 - 6:50 am

    Right on, Jon! This stuff is great. I’ve forwarded it to many folks and will probably link to it on my blog. I always cringe when clients start talking about “suggestion systems” in the traditional sense and I have to steer them away from bureaucracy to true daily kaizen that happens at the “gemba” instead of a conference room.
    Great post, great list.

  2. Jon

    June 11, 2007 - 7:06 pm

    Thanks Mark.

  3. Bryan

    May 15, 2009 - 10:08 am

    This is a great list. One thing that does go often overlooked is the size of the idea. The size of the idea can make your list of ten things harder or easier to achieve. Smaller ideas are easier to think up, cheaper, simpler, easier to implement, easier to follow-up on, easier to coach, easier to accept, easier to get help with others, etc. Larger ideas are hard to think up, expensive, complex, hard to implement, difficult to assess and follow up on, difficult to coach to, tougher sell, and difficult to gather resources around. One of the reasons Toyota, Subura, Canon and Matsushita have high implementation rates in their kaizen teian systems is the nature of the improvement ideas – they are mostly small ones.

  4. Dat Huynh

    May 4, 2011 - 8:16 am

    Hello Jon,
    I have been searching for paper and book talking about Toyota reward system and only come accros your paper “The Suggestion System is No Suggestion” whereby you mentionned that Toyota give cash rewards. I really appreciate that you can you provide a reference to a Toyota publication (book or paper) on this matter.

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