Hi there! In this article I will describe the small-start business improvement.

What is small-start?

First, I’d like to consider what the “small-start” is. Although its meaning is literal, the “small-start” is a measure to reduce the risk in case of failure, because you can start it so easily and have a limited range of work.

I will take saving money as an example: if you first start to save up 500 yen for a trip and can continue that for 3 months, next time, you will want to save up 1000 yen. If you can do that for 3 months, next time, you will consider a bigger sum – 2000 yen or more – and also consider a longer period of saving than 3 months. Afterward, you can consider the countries where you can travel with the money saved, and go there.

If you find it difficult to save up 500 yen, you can start with 100 yen. The good point of the “small-start” is that you can easily change the purpose of saving money.

In short, a small-start means planning and starting from where you can. First of all, it’s important to know what you can do at this point.

However, there are also some improvement activities that are not suitable for a small-start.

For example, regarding requests to produce new and functional equipment, or to renovate the building where you work, in terms of costs, a preparation period and an application period are required, which takes a long time. This is beyond what we can do, therefore it is an unsuitable improvement activity to use a small-start.

On the other hand, there are many things that can be improved, such as organizing the file sets that are always displayed on the employee’s desk and creating a list of phone numbers of essential departments. These are improvement activities that are appropriate for a small-start and you can advance activities as far as possible. Besides, you can consult with your supervisor if necessary. By repeating these improvements, they will eventually become a major improvement and expand what you can do to make your work easier.

Small business improvement

I will introduce an example of a small-start improvement activity which I’ve experienced. In my previous job, there was an initiative aimed at improving the work of all employees. It was a Business Improvement Presentation competition where groups of different departments within the company present their efforts.

The event takes place over a period of six months, after which the groups will announce their efforts within that period. First of all, they will divide into several groups in the workplace and work on an actual business improvement.

The rules for the Business Improvement Presentation are:

  • Talk about only one topic for that six months
  • After obtaining approval from superiors inside and outside the division, work on the efforts and themes in accordance with the company’s policy.
  • Quantify the effects and explain them in an easy-to-understand manner, such as with a graph.
  • It should be possible to continue the proposal even after the Business Improvement Presentation is completed.
  • The content should be interesting for other departments after the announcement.

In other words, it is an effort aimed at improving the reputation of your department and giving a positive impact to other divisions, by focusing on what you can do, and producing a result over a six-month period.

Although the small-start improvement activities are not all about events like this, sometimes just telling your supervisor and the members around you about your personal doubts can lead to an improvement.

However, if you work alone others may be unaware of what has improved. This time, I would like to focus on how to visualize improvement activities that begin with a small-start within the department and other departments. In this section, I will introduce an example of the efforts made for the benefit of the “Business Improvement Presentation” which I mentioned above, with the aim of working in a group and achieving results in a short period of time.

Know the current status in a workflow diagram

The first thing your group discusses for the Business Improvement Presentation is the dissatisfaction at the workplace. Actually, the general purpose of the Business Improvement Presentation is:

“To be able to resolve requests and complaints hidden in routine work by ourselves.”

In other words, team members should be people with whom you can share your feelings, and who work in the same workplace where there are requests and complaints. You can divide into the following teams:

  • Receptionist / Operator team
  • Sales team
  • Administration team
  • Editorial team

However, when making a presentation in which the effects can be clearly seen by employees and superiors in other departments you might wonder about the theme of the improvement. I think routine and ongoing work can be appropriate as a theme.

You have to describe specific examples of improvements in various job types.

  • Shorten the response time by creating an easy manual for operators to understand when answering the phone.
  • Consider work efficiency by drawing the routine office work on a workflow diagram.
  • Add a new check item to the mail-order catalog editing operation where errors frequently occur.
  • Arrange your desk so you can quickly retrieve files of internal information to share with your colleagues.

There are many more ideas, but I’d like you to be careful that it doesn’t become just a list of complaints. Moreover, sometimes the other members could suggest a solution even if you suggest an idea or your group members suggest too many opinions to come up with a solution.

I will introduce some tips for improving the routine and ongoing work that all group members can share and discuss. First of all, for understanding the current situation, you can start by drawing a workflow diagram with a piece of paper and a pencil. Drawing and viewing the diagram enables you to understand the current situation, and furthermore, recognize the necessary and unnecessary work. In the diagram below, which features a new check item added to the catalog editing operation where many errors occur, there are obviously missing processes. Let’s review it while explaining the procedure.

  1. The design team starts the workflow, and produces parts to print in the catalog. *Parts (Components necessary for types of layout such as photo editing, illustration creation, and text data entry)
  2. The editorial team uses the parts created by the design team to create pages for the catalog. (Also known as layout work)
  3. The leader approves the content and all work is completed.

The members will point out there is not a check Task displayed after viewing this workflow. Then, the discussion about where to place the check process begins.

Set a priority

By drawing a workflow diagram, as shown above, it may prompt many complaints and opinions within the group other than adding a check Task (a Task to send back to the representative and a solution for a confused procedure when re-editing the correction). However, it is difficult to resolve all these problems through improvement activities. Rather, it is important to find the most suitable improvement points for the Business Improvement Presentation.

In the Business Improvement Presentation you should introduce things which you can achieve in a short period from January to June, and improvement activities that are possible with a small-start. Therefore, you need to choose what you can change.

There are 3 points to consider when deciding the theme of improvement activities that can be done with a small-start.

  • Achievable (in terms of budget and company policy)
  • Can be improved incrementally.
  • Quantifiable

You have to prioritize the improvement issues that match these three points and select one of them. In that way, you’ll be able to invigorate the discussion more after drawing the workflow diagram and get more support from your supervisor (advice, internal recommendation, etc).

Business improvement which is repeated step-by-step

At the first meeting, you need to decide on the theme, the way to proceed, and the division of roles for the Business Improvement Presentation.

  • Presenter
  • Secretary (data entry)
  • Meeting chairperson
  • Preparing documents

As for a presenter and preparing documents, it might be more effective to choose someone. Whereas, for a secretary (data Input) and a host of a meeting, rotating these roles among team members is better. In that way, you can feel like you are working together. Moreover, all members will decide how to proceed with business improvement.

Then, I’d like to introduce a way to explain the effects of improvement activities more clearly.

Let’s review operations regularly

You will select a theme at the first meeting – if you find it difficult to decide a theme within the time, you can decide by a survey taken in advance or a majority vote.

For example, you have decided on the theme of adding a new check item to layout work of designs with many mistakes and showing the effect graphically.

Moreover, you have decided to create check items for your members to check them by themselves first. Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to a decrease in the number of mistakes so much.

When asking the members for their opinions, some of them gave an opinion that a third party’s point of view is necessary because checking it by themselves becomes subjective and they can’t prevent mistakes. Therefore, you created a check Task of asking team members to check after checking by yourself.

Then, the number of mistakes decreased compared to before.

Afterward, a way to check in case of sudden layout changes was discussed. The person who will accept layout changes is the leader, and they need to start the process again. Another solution is to add the ability to for a leader to start the process.

In this way, you have discussed the points of concern regularly among the members and changed the check items and workflow diagram.

Grasping the range of work you can handle

Some people might suggest you hire a reviewer. However, team members working towards the Business Improvement Presentation cannot hire.

As mentioned in Chapter 1, business improvement with a small-start is incremental and it’s important to do a little bit of what you can do right away. Moreover, each team member has a strong point.

  • Computing
  • Appearing in public
  • Organizing opinions
  • Attentive

You will utilize those strengths and take action to improve your work.

Required KPIs and KGIs for setting goals

The Business Improvement Presentation meeting has taken place. The numerical target is defined as reducing the number of mistakes per day to about 20% – ideally, you should aim for 0% but it’s more effective to find out and define the current number of mistakes compared to how many mistakes you’ve made in the past.

You can take statistics for a month to see how many mistakes per day we’ve been able to reduce and compare it to the past.

Then, for the first time, you can set a goal of reducing the number of mistakes next month by a certain percentage.

Assuming that the Business Improvement Presentation is held every six months, it is important to define the KPI value of the number of mistakes that can be eliminated in a day and what percentage of the target KGI value can be reduced in six months.

You create a graph to visually represent the effects, referring to these values.

Gradually improve the company’s productivity via the “PDCA cycle”.

After that, the Business Improvement Presentation is held, and the excellent groups are commended. However, it is rather important to continue to improve in accordance with the theme. The Business Improvement Presentation which I experienced worked on a project every six months and I always worked on a different theme.

Even though you finish the Business Improvement Presentation tournament, the theme of improvement will remain. Also since it can contain improvement elements, reviewing regularly is important. I think it is better to apply it to the repeating PDCA cycle.

In this section, the first element of PDCA, “Plan”, is applied to the discussion phase of the Business Improvement Presentation. By repeating small improvements in this way, that can increase your company’s productivity.

Reference: Changeable Daily Work and “PDCA”


I introduced an example of small business improvements starting with a small-start. In this way, you can achieve great results by gradually implementing what you can do immediately. Incidentally, the idea of a small start is also used when starting your business.

With a small-start, you might also be able to produce tangible results when studying and housekeeping.

I will also try that soon.

Thank you for reading!


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