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Growth Based Strategies

Filling Your Post-Lean Capacity

By Doug Hall, CEO, Eureka Ranch

Brunson Instruments faced an interesting problem. After focusing on implementing Lean in their manufacturing facility in Kansas City, Missouri, the company saw a significant decrease in lead times and improvement in on-time delivery. The company had cut costs and increased efficiency. These results were not the problem. The challenge was the greater capacity created by these efficiencies, and not enough increase in sales to fill it.

Incremental sales growth for the last five years for Brunson had ranged between 8-12%. This alone would not fill the gap between current production and the company’s new capacity. To address this opportunity, the company had no shortage of ideas. "We’re all left-brained engineers with more ideas than we could implement," said Brunson’s Vice President Richard Powell. "We needed a process to focus, prioritize, and get new things going and out the door."

Enter a new growth service offered by the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Created in the last year by NIST MEP in conjunction with nationally known growth consultant Doug Hall, the service is called Eureka! Winning Ways and provides companies with a disciplined process that helps companies create, filter, prioritize, and explore ideas for growth, based on data of real-world growth successes from thousands of companies.

"The program takes companies through a streamlined and quick-paced process over the course of approximately seven weeks," said Greg King, Program Manager. "At the end of that time, companies have the data to decide whether or not—and how—to proceed with developing and delivering their new idea into the marketplace."

For companies like Brunson and others, the process is efficient, disciplined, and works. Four months after they started this project with their local MEP affiliate, Missouri Enterprise, the company launched two new products. Decorative tile manufacturer Questech, of Rutland, Vermont, launched a test of their new idea in a nearby tile showroom just six weeks after they began the process. And Richards Industries, an industrial valve manufacturer in Cincinnati, elevated a product that had been buried in a larger product line into a stand-alone feature with its own branding in just four months. "That was light speed for us," said Richards President Bruce Broxterman.

Moving Quickly from Ideas to Implementation
So how does the program work? The engagement, managed by a local growth coach from MEP center in your area, involves the following elements. It begins with a one-day workshop that brings together key company staff with ownership, customers, board members, or other partners to the organization. During the workshop, participants are lead through a process in which dozens of ideas are generated, focusing on possible opportunities in new sales, new products, and new markets. Ideas are formulated in writing by individuals and then reviewed and discussed by the participants in increasingly larger groups. This process of refining and rethinking ideas from all viewpoints of the company in a structured setting has proven to be eight times more effective than traditional brainstorming.

At the end of the day, companies generate more than 50 detailed ideas. With help from its growth coach, the company then selects its top four for success screening. Based on 50 success factors and data from 4,000 ideas tracked, the testing looks at how the idea demonstrates an overt benefit, dramatic difference, and the real reason customers should believe in the product.

One week later, the growth coach will review the results of the success screening with the company. The testing will show whether an idea is likely to succeed, possible to succeed, or unlikely to succeed. With this input, the company can decide which ideas to move next into discovery.

With the help of their growth coach, companies create a 30-day action plan that outlines specific research, testing, and other steps to be taken to explore the viability of the idea.  During this phase, the company will learn how to minimize financial risk while still examining and developing enough of the idea so a decision can be made at the end of the 30-days about whether or not to move the idea into development and delivery.

"The 30-day discovery phase was the best takeaway for us," said Bryan Humpert of Campbell Hausfeld, a Cincinnati-based power tool manufacturer. "We have lots of projects and ideas. This gave us a process to evaluate and develop an easy means to say yes or no—quickly and methodically determining whether or not to move ahead with an idea, rather than dragging it out for months and investing too much time or money."

Exponential, Systemic Growth
Rather than focusing on incremental growth that companies can discover from efficiencies and internal improvements, this program thinks big. "This workshop pushed us to make the hard decisions and focus our time and money only on those ideas that can really impact our business dramatically," said Broxterman.

Many companies are still in the early stages of selling their new products, but early results and projections are promising:

  • Brunson expects to generate $300,000 in sales from their first two new products.
  • Richards Industries has seen sales for its newly staged product jump by 70% in just six months.
  • Cabinet manufacturer Rosewood Industries in Stigler, Oklahoma can see three years from now that their new ideas could grow the company by 60%.
  • And for Questech, sales projections are similarly huge. "Not only could this triple the size of our business," says Gary Marmer, Vice President of Marketing for Questech, "but it will fundamentally change our industry."

The Process for Continuous Growth
Once a project is delivered, these companies now have a process for continuous growth that can be reloaded time and again. "This program wasn’t just an event, a one-day workshop," said Jim Samocki, Director of Product Development for Campbell Hausfeld. "You gain real benefit when the learnings are ingrained in your company and become part of your process. We now have a new system to develop ideas, filter out the ones that will have dramatic impact, and make decisions on whether or not to move forward."

Richards Industries’ President Broxterman agrees. "The old brainstorming approach is dead for us; we’ll use this more disciplined approach as we move forward. It’s idea generation in a framework that is channeled toward our goal to increase our business, sales, revenues, and profits."

For James Love, President and CEO of Rosewood Industries, the program not only gave them a process to generate, filter, and pursue ideas, but it also changed the way they see their company. "Now we have a much more aggressive growth philosophy that has made us realize that we can be so much bigger than we are today."

Download more information…

MEP Growth Solutions: Making Innovation a Systematic Process for Building a Sustainable Competitive Advantage


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