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Situation: A large manufacturing firm with 50 manufacturing sites, 200 sales / service offices, and several R&D / product development labs worldwide had an innovation and quality award program that they wanted to revamp. While the rules and nomination forms were developed centrally, the actual awards process was handled locally by each plant and regional sales group. The final list of winners was sent to the corporate office where customized trophies were purchased then shipped to each winner's location.

The manufacturer decided they needed a more centralized process for collecting nominations, judging the winners, and making the winners' ideas more widely available to everyone in the firm. They also wanted to more closely track the name, location, and role of each team member since many teams involved multiple locations and people with various backgrounds.

Action: Working as a technology consultant and project manager, we first reviewed the documents and procedures used in past years. The procedure was changed to require that all nominations be submitted through a Intranet web site. The nomination form was revised to require the nominator to clearly state what problem was being studied, how the problem was studied and what data was collected, what proposed solution was implemented, the technical impact of the change, and finally the economic impact of the change. Additionally, each team member was identified both by name, location, and by team function so that only major contributors would be included. Nominators were encouraged to submit electronic versions of supporting information in the form of documents, spreadsheets, drawings, or digital photos. The revised rules and nomination forms were distributed to all plant and other office locations. Posters (in several languages) announcing the contest were designed, printed, and sent to all major employee locations.

When the nominator completed the form and submitted it, an email was sent both to the responsible site coordinator for the innovation program and to the coordinator at headquarters. This allowed a spreadsheet to be updated daily to keep management appraised about which projects had been submitted and how many submissions were generated by each site. The goal was to get at least 1-2 submissions per 100 employees from each location. Those sites not actively participating were encouraged to provide additional submissions. Several emails were broadcast to all employees reminding them of the upcoming deadline for nominations.

At the end of the one month contest period, each site chose their finalists, one team per 100 employees. A central committee then reviewed the web-based nomination forms from all the finalists to verify the technical and economic significance of their innovations. A personalized congratulatory letter was immediately sent to each winning team member, followed within a month by a certificate and distinctive trophy.

Result: Over 80 teams (involving almost 500 people) were nominated, and 60 teams (400 people) were judged to be winners. The total estimated values of all the savings greatly exceeded the modest cost of the program. All the winning ideas were then made available on an Intranet site so that other sites could view the innovative ideas and determine if any could be adopted at their site also.

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