People have asked me in the past year what Lean Idea Management meant. They assumed it had to do with managing Kaizen in lean organizations. Although in reality our Idea Management tool would bring value to Lean organizations, it also applies well in all organizations.

The reason I named the blog Lean Idea Management, and really what drove the design of EurekaTool was the need to eliminate the non-value added steps often associated with that assembly line called “ideation-to-implementation”. There are many areas of waste in a typical continuous improvement process, even in lean companies.

For one, most ideas are recorded on paper, or perhaps a Kaizen Card. The idea has to be communicated to several individuals in order to align needed resources or get buy-in. Typically this happens in meetings. Ideas, and supporting documentation are put in manila folders and passed around for evaluation and eventually if the idea is good, it is handed over to someone or a team of implementers. Ultimately, most organizations I have seen, also have a coordinator or team of coordinators that walk these folders around, hand them over, retrieve them and even coordinate the meetings. Most of the time these coordinators, or gatekeepers, become bottle necks under the extreme load of keeping the idea assembly line moving, and at times have been known to make ideas ‘accidentally’ disappear.

If you try to picture this ‘idea assembly line’ you can envision a lot of people walking to and from these ideas, instead of the ideas coming to them. All this walking back-and-forth is non value-add. Then you have the bottle neck; the gatekeepers sifting through tons of paperwork, and trying to coordinate the whole thing. They try to chase down individuals who have sat on ideas for weeks (if not months). Imagine this process for 120,000 ideas?

Essentially, the manual process boils down to an assembly line that is not balanced – too much work on few individuals - , and no concept of Kanban – there is no natural method of pulling the idea through the process, and constantly has to be pulled and pushed by the coordinators (literally walking back and forth with the folders). Ultimately there are no Poka Yokes and visual flags alerting individuals and management that a good idea has not been evaluated on time, implemented, or perhaps lost… (which is common in these manual systems.)

So in general, as lean organizations engage in continuous improvement, very often they fail to improve that continuous improvement process itself, and this is where idea management software can truly solve many of the problems, add-value, and eliminate the waste encountered in this most necessary process (if you’re going to sustain Lean).

1) Elimination of paperwork and eventual transcriptions into a database or spreadsheet. Ideas are entered by idea generators via the web (typically an on-site kiosk)
2) Routing of ideas to multiple champions, depending on area or idea type, thus eliminating the overloading of the coordinator.
3) Electronic notifications of task assignments and full transparency (to everyone) where the idea is on the ‘assembly line’
4) Alarms and escalation of tasks which are overdue.
5) And last but not least, the metrics and visual communication tools needed to keep everyone informed of how well the process is performing: Idea Quality, throughput time at different stages, participation, and (of-course) cost savings or process savings generated.

Bottom line, the software becomes the virtual assembly line, and the resources needed to evaluate and implement only get engaged when necessary. The notifications and alerts keep the line moving, and the administrator no longer becomes a full time resource assigned to keep the process moving, but instead a part time maintenance worker that can spend time on other value-add processes throughout the organization.

Ultimately, when the system is inefficient, it leads to individuals who have great ideas to lose faith in the system and cease their contributions - there is absolutely no value in ideas, only in their implementation.