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How to Achieve Quick Wins

Starting small and thinking big is a popular concept, not unique to just the manufacturing industry. For us at Mingo, this is our mantra. Rather than approaching tasks and projects with a big, lofty goal that seems overwhelming, we stress the importance of starting small and taking steps that will lead to accomplishing the bigger goalBut, do you know what’s more important than simply starting small? Getting quick wins.

But, what does that even mean, and why are small steps and quick wins supposedly helpful to manufacturers?

In reality, it’s not the starting small concept that really matters, but the quick win. The quick win creates engagement and encouragement in the company, proves that efforts are heading in the right direction, and keeps the momentum going. That’s really why you want to do this, right? To eventually get to the end goal. Quick wins help you accomplish that at the end of the day.

So, yes, we talk frequently about the concept of starting small and achieving quick wins. But, where do you start? How do you know which goals to set? How do you define something that you can do that will build confidence in the team and make sure that you can achieve it?

Note: Paul Dunlop speaks on this topic in his interview with Bryan Sapot on the Zen and the Art of Manufacturing podcast. Give it a listen to take a deep dive into the topic of quick wins, developing effective processes, and achieving lean processes.

In this blog, we’ll talk about:

  • The process of setting goals that enable quick wins
  • Acknowledging the quick wins
  • Using that process to iterate on it over and over and over again

Take a problem, set a goal, find quick wins, and keep moving toward improvement. This is the main idea.

The idea is one we follow here at Mingo, too. We’ll give you a real-life example of how we use quick wins in our implementation process to encourage the use of the software.

Then we’ll take a trip to 1984 in an example that will resonate and even evoke fond memories of everyone’s favorite karate movie.

Starting So Small That You Can’t Fail

As we mentioned, the concept of starting small and getting quick wins is common in the manufacturing industry. Jesse DePriest and Paul Dunlop, both featured guests on Zen and the Art of Manufacturing talk about the concept. The Toyota Kata book extensively talks about the topic. But, if the topic is so common, why don’t many actually implement the idea?

We’ve even realized it at our own company. We set very high-level goals but failed to set small goals along the way that would make quick wins achievable and create employee engagement and good experiences. We hope to encourage manufacturers to learn from our mistakes and embody the idea of quick wins to create a great company culture.

So, let’s talk about it.

Let’s say you have this target condition that you’re trying to hit. It can seem ridiculously far ahead, daunting, and maybe even unachievable. It may seem impossible at first, but when you break that goal down into achievable smaller steps, it becomes less daunting.

Have you ever seen Finding Nemo? Think about Dory and her plight to find Nemo. “Just keep swimming.”

So, with that wonderful movie reference in mind, ask yourself, “What are the things you can do things you can try to make that seemingly unachievable goal work?”

You know that along the way like we’ve learned in Toyota Kata, that you’re going to fail. It’s inevitable. You’re going to try things and it’s not going to work, and that’s just part of the improvement and lean manufacturing process.

But, there’s a caveat. Yes, of course, failure is necessary to learn, but the real goal is to create smaller steps within that larger goal that make it so you’re not failing repeatedly. You don’t want employees getting discouraged to the point they don’t want to continue working towards the larger goal. But, if there are small failures and yet, they’re still achieving small wins that will lead to eventually hitting the larger goal, then everything is going great. This is an ideal process. (And one we highly suggest you implement in your own plant – learn from us.)

Yes, those small goals show progress, but do you know what the real benefit is? It’s the confidence your employees will gain.

Confidence Building is Important, Too & Here’s Why

Build confidence in the team and build the habits necessary to really improve these processes. At the end of the day, the whole idea is to empower and enable people to problem solve in their own daily work. This is going to pay dividends in the long run for manufacturers.

Paul Dunlop talked about simple process improvements that encourage building good habits and behaviors and confidence in making decisions in his podcast interview. He mentions a chair that was creating a disruption in the work environment. It was in the way of one person’s work area and was causing frustration. The person asked if he could move the chair, instead of simply moving it himself knowing that it would create better flow and allow him to complete his job easier. He didn’t feel empowered enough to make that decision on his own.

But, imagine if this manufacturer had created an environment that encouraged small wins (like moving the chair to create better flow) and enabling individual decision making?

This is what starting small and quick wins creates in a manufacturing environment.

No, a small win doesn’t need to be a massive Kaizen event or a huge, planned-out project.

In fact, it can be very simple.

Let’s talk about Mingo as an example. Sure, you have goals for what you want to accomplish with manufacturing productivity software like ours, and that may take some time. But, a really quick win is the fact that you get really accurate data, today. Right now. You don’t need to edit or teach anything. A quick win is that you notice a problem on the line, and before, you never knew that problem existed. That’s a win.

The fact that you have data to problem solve is a win. Visibility into where you are during the day is a win. You may not have even solved a problem, but now you know that you’re supposed to make 40 widgets today, and halfway through your shift, you see 21 widgets have been made. So, you know you’re going to hit the goal of 40 widgets.

You know where you stand. This is a huge win.

Paul really stresses this point in his podcast. You don’t have to define the win as reaching a goal or winning the race. You can frame it however you want and pitch it to the team however you want. At the end of the day, you’re trying to build confidence and momentum and belief in the habits and that they’re going to work.

Another great example is working out at the gym. Sure, you may want to lose 30 pounds, but if you only have that goal in mind, with no small steps in between, you’re going to get very discouraged when you don’t lose 30 pounds in a week. But, if you set small goals, maybe it’s being able to run a mile, lose 2 pounds by the end of the month, lift higher weight, or whatever it may be, it’s going to be much more encouraging and enable you to keep working towards your larger goal.

You’re creating small steps that drive good habits and behaviors that eventually will lead to the goal of losing 30 pounds. Those small steps are a win, right?

Real-Life Example: Implementing a Culture of Quick Wins

At this point, you know what small steps and quick wins can do for your employees and culture in general, but where do you start? How do you really know this will help your company?

Odds are, you either have an intuition that this needs to be implemented in your company or you have facts to prove that you absolutely need this.

Take us at Mingo for example. We went through a process of identifying a problem, taking corrective measures, and establishing a series of small steps that would enable quick wins and engagement that would help customers fully use our software.

So, what was the problem? We realized that some of our customers were either churning or not expanding. They weren’t using Mingo as we expected. Why?

We started looking into the root cause, using a mix of usage data and our gut feelings.

So, we got to the root cause – the manufacturers with high churn or lack of expansion don’t communicate to their employees about why their implementing Mingo, causing front-line workers not to care about this new piece of technology.

But, as we’ve learned in the Toyota Kata book, author Mike Rother reiterates over and over that you don’t want to immediately deploy countermeasures to fix the problem until you really understand what the problem is. Using something like The 5 Why’s, get to the root of the actual problem.

Here’s how that process went for us at Mingo:

Q. What’s the root of the problem? A. It’s taking too long for customers to get good, accurate data.

Q. Why? A.Operators aren’t engaged and they didn’t understand why Mingo was being implemented in the first place.

Q.Why? A.Well, because the management didn’t communicate to the operators what’s important and what’s in it for them. (It’s imperative for employees to understand what’s in it for them in order for them to want to improve).

This was the root of the issue.

“Ok, so how did you fix the problem?”

We learned that we need to reiterate the importance of encouragement and communication in regards to customers talking with their employees. For us, we need to encourage management to talk to their people. The other thing that we have to make it easy for front-line workers. If there are problems or obstacles in the way to put data in the system, we need to figure out what those are and eliminate them as much as possible is crucial.

We have a plan to do these things and now, we’re making sure these things actually happen. We have conversations with manufacturers that go along the lines of: “Did you talk to your operators? Yes, ok, what did you say? How did they receive it? Are they now doing these things? Yes or no? If not, why not?”

Then, we iterate on it and ensure we’re continuing to improve processes. It all comes down to the Kata principle of iterating on these things. Essentially, it’s a PDCA cycle.

So, we’ve gone through this whole explanation of what we’ve done to improve, but at the end of the day, the small win is what has made this process successful. The small win in this particular case is that manufacturers need to celebrate that an operator is inputting the necessary data in a single shift. That’s it. If the operator inputted data every hour (or whatever their internal measurement is), that’s a win. Then, it’s celebrated in the daily production meeting the next morning. Simple as that.

To go even more in-depth, we have a data quality dashboard within Mingo that tells you where there were potential manual data entry problems from the current or previous shift, whatever date range you want to look at. The people that do it right, you can recognize them, incentive them through an employee incentive program, whatever you want to do. Entering a number into a computer is about as small a win as it gets, but the key is to celebrate it.

So, in learning from us, you can very easily apply those same steps of determining the small steps and the quick wins that will allow you to improve processes and implement successful change.

The Karate Kid and Quick Wins

We’ve all seen the Karate Kid, right? (We hope so, at least). Think about how Daniel learns karate.

Did Mr. Miyagi teach him traditional karate or did he use an unconventional teaching method that created good habits and celebrated quick wins that led to the achievement of a big goal?

Daniel complains that he doesn’t want to paint the fence, wax on, wax off, or any of the other menial tasks Mr. Miyagi, his trainer, asks of him. It’s tedious and annoying according to Daniel. He doesn’t believe he’s learning anything related to karate even though Mr. Miyagi promised to teach him.

What Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel is that the small menial chores are the foundation of key karate movements that will prove crucial in his success at the karate tournament. Every one of those small chores turned into a habit that allowed Daniel to achieve his goal of learning karate and winning the tournament.

Every step along the way, each a quick win, leads to the ability to do something really impressive.

You can take this example and apply to it to manufacturing. As an operator, you want help. You have problems and you’re constantly battling this ever-changing manufacturing environment, and nobody knows what really goes on except for you. It seems tedious and annoying to constantly face these problems, with no direction or guidance.

Mingo is a tool for you to communicate what’s happening – why you can’t hit the numbers or why you do hit the numbers. It helps management understand where you need help.

If you enter data into the system, this becomes one small win. Now, you can get that visibility and look at it every day and start to helping you with these problems, making the ever-changing manufacturing environment easier to manage. That’s the power of small steps and quick wins.

Eventually, your quick wins and before you know it, the big goal that was set, looks much more achievable.


We mention a number of resources as well as podcast interviews throughout this blog. Full episodes from our podcast, Zen and the Art of Manufacturing can be found wherever you get your podcasts or on YouTube.

Additional resources, as well as episodes and guests featured in the podcast, are:

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.