Reducing Cost – Homegrown Way.
Below is an excerpt from Reducing Process Costs with Lean, Six Sigma, and Value Engineering Techniques by Kim H Pries and Jon M Quigley pages 41 – 44
The brainstorming technique is attributed to Alex Faickney Osborne as explained in his 1953 book, Applied Imagination. The technique arose from frustration with the inability of employees to develop creative solutions for problems. Personal experience suggests this is a valuable tool when deployed appropriately and the guidelines are followed. If we populate the team with diverse backgrounds we can see ideas build on other ideas very rapidly.
To really find the areas for cost improvement we must let go of our mental impediments to uncovering these opportunities. It is very probable that there are plenty of cost improvement possibilities. However, in our daily work execution we may not find the time to free our minds to consider these possibilities. A brainstorming exercise can go far to fuel the imagination, to open a “space” to think laterally at what may be possible. We have successfully employed this technique to:
- Reduce costs
- Generate intellectual property
- Reduce weight for the vehicle
- Solve product design constraints
It is not even necessary to have a team with you to accomplish this lateral thinking, creative thinking, or thinking outside the box. Whatever you call it, the objective is to alter the perspective or view of the problem in order to perceive alternative possibilities. We can do this as a solo activity or we can use a group of individuals. If we are doing this as a group exercise we must make certain the event hygiene is managed. Of course, we are not talking about cleanliness of the team but the ability of the team to work together to produce some ideas that may solve the issue (cost) at hand.
Product, Process or Service Preparation for Critique
We need to make sure we are well prepared for the brainstorming event. This means selecting a cross-functional team with the wherewithal to achieve the objective of the exercise. They must have example material to review or peruse before the event. It is often helpful to have the material available during the exercise as well.
To be effective, we must set the objective of the brainstorming activity. This in effect is the problem statement that we wish to solve. For example:
- Reduce the product material costs by 10%
- Reduce manufacturing costs by 6%
- Reduce shipping costs by 3%
We direct the team’s attention (or even our own if we are the only person involved) toward this specific objective. This is necessary lest we end up with an array of ideas of which few or any meet our objective.
If we have a product or service that we are trying to improve the cost, we can have the product available as a teardown sample for our team to review. We can have the tools available to take the product apart during the exercise. This dissection of the product helps the team learn about the product and provides grounds for idea generation. We have had good experiences with a teaming exercise between the supplier and the customer, with each organization supplying a group of engineers from various disciplines from product design going through the product. For example, we may have mechanical and electronic engineers from both organizations generating ideas for cost and quality improvements.
We can also have drawings of the product available for our team’s review. We may choose to do this prior to the brainstorming event getting our team the understanding of the product, process or service prior to the event to maximize the idea generating time available.
We need not constrain our work to drawings of products. We can use this same approach to evaluate any process or processes we have within our organization that we wish to consider for improvement. In these cases we will need the process documentation and any process performance documentation that may be available. We should have a good idea of the performance of that process the same as we would with the performance of the product.
The objective of a brainstorming exercise is to put as many ideas as possible for later consideration. The operative word is later. At this point in the process, we are trying to educe many ideas that we will consider at a later time. At some future date we will assess these ideas.
At the start of a brainstorming exercise, we will generally see the easy ideas emerge first—those ideas that have been discussed previously in the back rooms of the organization. We may not see any unique or fresh set of perspectives until we have exhausted these recycled ideas. That is not to say that these first ideas will not be appropriate, only that the new perspective will usually appear after we have already emitted those initial clusters of ideas—those at the forefront of our minds.
The generation of a mass of ideas has the added benefit of providing fodder for future cost improvement exercises without having to start at the brainstorming session again. If we generate enough ideas, we can investigate and prioritize each, thus filling the pipeline for future actions the organization can take to improve the cost, all based on this one event. Consider for example, an investment of five people during two hours that produces 40 ideas that could work, which is better than that same number of hours that produced 10 ideas that are workable. We now have a backlog of ideas for our cost improvement efforts from which we can execute.
We do not want to stall progress on the idea generation by going through a premature critique of the ideas. If we are consuming time to assess the quality of the idea, we will have a reduced number of ideas for the time invested. The focus is on the problem statement and the range of possible solutions to address the demand articulated in the problem statement.
Besides the diffusion of the available time from generating ideas, if we critique what is being provided from the participants prematurely, we run the risk of shutting their contribution down. If we alienate a team member by assailing their idea, we may run the risk of reducing their contribution. We need a multitude of ideas and a safe nonjudgmental place to generate them.
Lastly, there are plenty of instances where radical or contrary ideas have produced exceptional results. Think of the Wright brothers, and Albert Einstein.
Build on Ideas
If we have a group of people generating the ideas, we may see a combination or building of larger ideas from a core idea or central theme. We may see a number of variations from that theme giving us a number of iterations or permutations of possible solutions. This is encouraged as well. We are looking for large volumes of ideas from which we can explore for validity at a later date. This poses the most challenging part of this process and that being the focus of the ideas. Our goal is to produce a number of solutions that could possibly meet the objective. The team may sway from the objective in the rush of ideas being proposed for consideration. While we suspend judgment, the caveat is not to diffuse the focus on the problem statement.
Mind mapping is not a new methodology. In the book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb, we see that Leonardo da Vinci used this technique to build associations and ideas. We see that the technique of graphically associating or linking ideas is not new. This technique was further refined (and marketed) in the 1970s by Tony Buzan.
Mind mapping is a diagramming technique used to generate associations between tasks or ideas and some central theme. The technique makes it possible for the person generating to group ideas that are associated with a central theme and generate additional ideas for each of those subthemes. In the end, we have a hierarchical view of based on the central theme. Often these maps make extensive use of pictures or other graphical representation, not just text or even predominantly text.
If the radiant thinking ability of the brain can be applied to the left cortical skill of words, can the same power be applied to the right cortical skill of imagination and images? In 1970, Scientific American magazine published Ralph Haber’s research showing that individuals have a recognition accuracy of images between 85% and 95%6. We associate and remember images because they make use of a massive range of our cortical skills, especially imagination. Images can be more evocative than words, more precise and potent in triggering a wide range of associations, thereby enhancing creative thinking and memory. These findings support the argument that the mind map is a uniquely appropriate tool. It not only uses images, it is an image.
If you have thoughts on cost reduction via homegrown approaches, please visit our discussion board at https://www.valuetransform.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?7-Cost-Management
 Gelb, Michael. How to Think like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. New York City, NY: Delacorte Press, 1998.
 Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book. New York City, NY: Plume/Penguin, 1993.
 http://www.lifetools.com/newsletters/bookblst2.html Retrieved September 20, 2012.