Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste

Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste

Guest writer Sara Hanks takes readers through the process of finding solutions that work for a team in “Creating Solutions to Reduce Waste.”

Although it has been 15 years, I remember the day clearly. It was my first opportunity to participate in a manufacturing Kaizen event, facilitated by a Japanese Sensei consultant. 20+ participants were divided into smaller teams of 4-5 people, with each team focusing on an area of the shop. I was selected as the team captain, as I was the most vocal person. After a couple days of analyzing the waste associated with the current state, we were instructed to identify solutions. I shared my perfect idea for a solution and the team agreed with the recommendation. My competitive side wanted to be the first team to accomplish the task, so I was relieved that the team was onboard. 

The Sensei, along with the leaders, would spend time visiting each team. When they stopped to check in with our team, I proudly shared our perfect solution. The Sensei was not happy, and I was mortified to be corrected in front of my leaders. He explained the 7 Ways Idea Generation methodology and requested that we return to brainstorming. My team generated 6 more ideas and used criteria such as impact and effort to down select to a single idea. It turned out that my perfect idea was not the final decision of the team.  

Hey, failure is one of the best instructors! While I learned a few things that day, the most important lesson was the power of divergent thinking. Specifically, divergent thinking from a diverse group of individuals will create the best solutions. In my process mapping and continuous improvement action workouts, I use creative thinking exercises, silent brainstorming, and an evaluation process to select the best solutions. 

Leveraging Creative Thinking for Developing Solutions 

“It turns out that creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few—it’s a natural part of human thinking and behavior. In too many of us it gets blocked. But it can be unblocked. And unblocking that creative spark can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organization, and your community.”

Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All 

When it comes to solutions, we tend to default to the ideas that have already existed. It’s hard to think outside of the box and be innovative because people tend to stop at the obvious solution. Introducing unrelated, creative exercises into an action workout can unlock creative thinking and help create new ideas. One of my favorite ways to spark creative thinking is to solution the worst possible idea first. Creating the worst idea does two things: 1) removes barriers by allowing the craziest of ideas to exist and 2) loosen up the team and help them feel more comfortable brainstorming ideas. 

There are several exercises available on the internet, so I recommend selecting 1-2 that fit within the context of the solution building. A coloring activity may not work for a meeting that is conducted virtually, for example. Once you’ve warmed up the group using one of these exercises, brainstorm solutions. 

Silent Brainstorming for Idea Generation Equality 

Silent brainstorming is used to generate ideas individually, while everyone is quiet. Participants can think without distractions or influence from other people. Groupthink is avoided and everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the solution. If the group is in a conference room or other common area, sticky notes are a good place to record ideas. Limit one idea per sticky note. If the group is located remotely, then ideas can be written down digitally. Remember the intent is to brainstorm without sharing, so make sure the ideas are captured locally vs. a shared platform. I recommend at least 30 minutes of brainstorming to ensure people can think their ideas through. After the silent brainstorming is completed, everyone can share their ideas with the larger group. As the team shares ideas, similar solutions emerge, which can be combined into single solutions. Once the solutions are identified, it is time to down select the idea. 

Selecting the Best Solution 

Selecting the best solution can be done a few different ways. Here are three examples:

  1. Impact – Effort matrix: the ideas are plotted on a grid. The ideas in quadrant 1 are no-brainers and the ideas in quadrant 3 can be discarded. The others are open to discussion.
  2. Voting: with voting, each person receives 7-10 votes. A person can use all their votes on a single idea or spread them across multiple solution ideas. Voting should be silent to prevent groupthink, as with silent brainstorming. The ideas with the most votes are selected for implementation. If the cost to implement the solutions vary, I recommend taking the top ideas and assessing them in an impact – effort matrix. 
  3. Assessing each solution against a set of predefined criteria. The criteria can include impact and effort but are expanded to assess other requirements. Safety, compliance, security, and quality may be included. Typically, the criteria are defined up front in the project charter as critical to quality items, benefits, or both. For each idea, score the idea against the criteria – I prefer a 1, 3 9 scale to differentiate the most applicable items. The total score for each idea is calculated – the highest scored ideas should be implemented.

After the solution(s) are selected for implementation, create a set of action items, owners, and dates for the critical next steps. Schedule follow-up meetings to ensure the actions are closed and identify any unforeseen roadblocks. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy implementing the innovative solutions that you and the team created!

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