Continuous Improvement -- Get The Muda Out Of Meetings

Oct. 5, 2005
It makes sense to streamline the most wasteful of business practices.

Many companies have incorporated the principles of lean manufacturing into operations and functions on their shop floors and, now that they know how well the philosophy works, stand to gain further by taking those practices into their offices.

In fact, the door from the lean manufacturing shop to the front office ought to be kicked open and wedged with a permanent doorstop to let ideas for continuous improvements walk in, and a likely place to begin the process of improving office systems is at the meetings that soak up so much time and expense.

A recent study of U.S. and European companies done for American Express Global by A.T. Kearney recently found that one of the fastest growing expenditures for businesses is the category of budgets for meetings.

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"Our new study shows that, as companies examine every kind of expense to buoy profits, many have begun to more closely review their meetings costs," Mark Webb, senior vice president for American Express Global Corporate Services' Global Client Group, said in a press release. "But the study also indicates that firms can make even further gains in controlling meetings costs by implementing more extensive improvements over all areas of meeting planning and management."

In fact, research by Meeting Professionals International says that the planners who arrange events for corporate, independent, association and non-profit purposes expect a 5% increase in budgets for corporate meetings in 2005, and this comes after a 3% rise in 2004.

Consider those increases in expenses in light of the reputation that meetings have as notoriously inefficient uses of time. There are many meetings at which wasteful materials are distributed, visual presentations lack meaning, and participants wonder what they are doing there and what their role might be.

A team approach to planning a meeting and a management technique that sees meetings as a complete event could combine to improve the efficiency at even the briefest meetings.

Successful business sessions are planned in advance and include a well defined agenda, coordinated and focused visual elements, participation limited to those persons involved in the process, and a room chosen as the correct size for the group. These are office-related analogies to the planning, kanban systems and use of materials and resources in place on the shop floor.

A.T. Kearney said it has research that shows that companies can save as much as 10% to 15% of annual meeting expenditures by implementing an end-to-end meeting management program, incorporating such best practices as demand management (for instance, by eliminating unnecessary meetings), supplier management, compliance management and streamlined transaction processing.

To derive the greatest benefits, continuous improvements should encompass the entire manufacturing enterprise.

Bruce Vernyi is the Editor-in-Chief of American Machinist, Welding Design & Fabrication and Gases & Welding Distributor.

(The American Express Meetings/Events Best Practice Study is provided only to American Express card customers. Information on the company's Global Corporate Services is available at

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