Whether the economy is strong or sluggish, identifying ways to save money can always be a smart business strategy. For most companies, several areas of the business can often be ripe for cost-cutting. Office supplies and travel expenses, for instance, are some of the first areas where organizations scale back. Other cost-cutting strategies aim for increasing efficiency and productivity, sometimes through adoption of technology and automated processes.
Every company is unique, however, and the right cost reduction strategy for one organization may not apply to another. One powerful method of identifying the best strategy for your business’ needs is through a creative, organized brainstorming technique called SCAMPER, whose name is derived from an acronym representing seven separate perspectives for creative problem-solving described in detail, below. SCAMPER starts by having your organization focus on a specific challenge – in this case, cost-cutting – and then helps you harness meaningful ways to overcome that challenge.
Let’s take a look at what SCAMPER is, how it works, and how you can apply it to keep your business costs in line.
What Is the SCAMPER Brainstorming Method?
The SCAMPER brainstorming methodology (also called the SCAMPER technique or approach) was developed in the early ’70s by American educational administrator and author Bob Eberle. SCAMPER was designed to build creative thinking in children and was based on ideas initially developed in the late 1950s by advertising executive Alexander Faickney Osborn, who introduced the concept of brainstorming. In the years since Eberle developed SCAMPER, it has been further adapted as a tool for solving business problems.
The acronym represents seven perspectives that companies can take to analyze a problem, spur out-of-the-box thinking, and unlock innovative solutions to the challenge at hand. The seven perspectives are:
- Put to another use
SCAMPER can be applied by individuals or as a group exercise, with a leader guiding teams through each of the seven viewpoints. By encouraging organizations to approach problems from unique angles, SCAMPER can often result in solutions companies might never have considered otherwise.
How to Use SCAMPER to Build Cost Reduction Strategies
SCAMPER is a simple approach. Companies can consider all seven techniques or use only the ones they predict will work best. The techniques don’t need to be followed in any particular order. Leading a SCAMPER session can involve nothing more than creating teams (if there are enough participants), defining what’s meant by each technique, and recording the proposals generated by the group. To get an idea of SCAMPER in action, let’s take a closer look at how to approach each technique to see how it could apply to cost-cutting.
The substitute technique poses the question: What else can we use or do to replace our current solution? In other words, can you identify substitute products, services, or activities that would cost less?
For example, your team might analyze the office software you use, such as spreadsheets, word processing systems, and cloud-based storage solutions. Because software licensing costs can add up, consider checking whether there are free alternatives that would save you some money. Before you make a switch, however, try to assess your software needs carefully to be sure your substitute choice wont hinder productivity.
Here’s another example. Suppose your business sometimes requires access to vehicles. Would using a shared car service in place of a company car save money – especially if the company car is used only occasionally? Instead of making monthly car payments, paying for maintenance, keeping up with registration and inspections, and covering insurance costs, you might consider using a shared car rental service to reduce expenses, rather than forcing employees to use their own vehicles to get their jobs done.
Are cost savings possible if processes, products, or services are combined to achieve greater efficiency? For example, if you use different companies for your liability insurance, property insurance, and worker’s compensation, consider contacting those companies to see if you can bundle all policies under one provider – ideally the one that offers you the best bang for your buck. This strategy extends to other services, such as phone, internet, or utilities, where bundling might offer savings, as might selecting a single vendor that can offer bulk purchasing discounts in lieu of using multiple discrete suppliers.
The adapt technique refers to making minor tweaks or adjustments to existing products, services, or processes to achieve cost reductions. One way to find inspiration is to consider adapting ideas from outside your industry to suit your organization. For example, if newspapers are shrinking page sizes to cut costs, what similar ideas can that spark for your own business? A food business might offer thinner pizzas or smaller muffins, for instance.
If your business hinges on the performance of your sales team, you might find inspiration in stores that use noncommissioned salespeople. Taking this approach may not only reduce costs but could help your workforce focus more on ways to enhance the customer experience and build loyalty, rather than earning commissions.
Where the adapt technique looks at making tweaks to existing solutions, modification goes a step further by considering broader changes, particularly to processes. For example, if your company doesn’t yet sell its products or services online, SCAMPER might inspire ways to modify your strategy by adding an online storefront to your business.
Or, consider brainstorming cost-cutting ways to refine your vacation policy, by introducing a blend of paid and unpaid leave, for example. By allowing employees to choose to take additional unpaid days off, especially during less busy periods, you can offer them the flexibility of extended breaks without incurring job insecurity. The company can benefit from reduced salary expenses during these periods, while employees gain the option to have longer personal time off if they’re willing to forgo being paid for those extra days.
Put to Other Use
When exploring different types of cost savings, consider strategizing how your current products and processes might be put to another use to reduce costs. For example, is it possible for you to rearrange your store or office to free up additional space? Try looking into whether it makes sense to sublet the extra space to generate more income while saving money on office space.
Or, perhaps you have a receptionist or other staff member answering calls, but you notice they’re not always busy. Try to brainstorm ways to put their time to better use so they can help you in other vital areas of your business.
Sometimes, rather than tweaking a current solution, the best way to save costs can be to eliminate it. For example, you might decide to save costs by eliminating the need for each employee to have a dedicated desk, particularly if you employ part-time staff or offer a hybrid work model that allows employees to work from home for part of the week. You might also consider implementing “hot desking,” a system in which employees don’t have assigned desks but, instead, use any available workstation on a given day.
In addition, try to pay attention to items you have in storage that you no longer use. Are you carrying obsolete or unused inventory? Are you stuck with returns? Are you holding on to inventory from canceled orders? Try to allow SCAMPER to help you review any and all options. You might be sitting on a source of cash if you’re able to liquidate them, saving money in the long run. For example, if you’ve upgraded your printer and are left with expensive, unused cartridges, consider contacting a company to sell them to.
The reverse technique in SCAMPER focuses on ways processes can be reversed or reengineered to solve a problem and identify potential cost savings in your business. For example, you may want to challenge conventional financial planning with reverse budgeting: Instead of creating a budget based on expected costs, consider starting with your desired savings or profit target and work backward to allocate funds accordingly.
Or, if your company sells a physical product that isn’t particularly complex to build, you might think about switching to a “just-in-time” manufacturing strategy where products are built after an order comes in, rather than maintaining costly inventory.
Another option might be to allow employees to swap positions temporarily – maybe for a day or a week. This maneuver can shed light on inefficiencies and unearth potential cost-saving opportunities for both roles.
The Bottom Line
SCAMPER is a simple brainstorming tool that can challenge conventional thinking and help you look at business problems from different angles. Try using it to come up with creative cost-reduction strategies for your business. You might be surprised by what you come up with – perhaps it’s substituting costly software with a free version, modifying existing policies or workflows, finding ways to eliminate waste, or reverse engineering your processes to uncover new ways to save money.
A version of this article was originally published on December 04, 2017.
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