Improve Your Products and Services


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

Improve Your Products and Services

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

— Benjamin Franklin

No product or service or process is perfect. You can always improve upon it.

The difficulty is knowing what to improve, and how to improve it.

In the 1970s, author Bob Eberle created a set of questions to help improve anything. You can remember the questions by using the acronym SCAMPER.

What does SCAMPER stand for?

SCAMPER stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Put to other uses, Eliminate, and Rearrange. Each of these command verbs tells what you can do to improve your topic.

For example, Substitute suggests other components for a product, or other types of interaction in a service, or other methods in a process.

In the following chart, note the kinds of questions you can ask yourself for each letter of SCAMPER.

  • What alternatives can we discover?
  • Who else could be involved with this?
  • What other ideas, approaches, or materials could be useful?
  • What new goals should we focus on?
  • How can this be combined with something else?
  • How would this work if it were more like that?
  • How can this be used in a new context?
  • How can this idea connect to other people?
  • What changes would improve this?
  • How could this be modified to better fit the situation?
  • What traits could be adjusted to improve this?
  • How can this become more desirable?
  • How can this be made bigger or more powerful?
  • How can I improve performance or efficiency?
  • How can I make this faster?
  • How can I make this more impressive?
Put to other uses
  • What other uses does this have?
  • Who else could use this?
  • Where else could this be applied?
  • What other problem could this solve?
  • What would simplify this?
  • What would streamline it?
  • How can it become less costly?
  • What would make this more subtle?
  • What other sequence could work for this?
  • How could I turn this completely around?
  • What other part of the issue might be more important?
  • Could this happen at a different time or in a different place?

How does SCAMPER work?

You start by deciding what you want to improve. For example, you might want to make the lunch room more inviting for employees.

Pick one of the SCAMPER categories—perhaps, Adapt. Then answer one or more the questions in as many ways as you can.

How could the lunch room be modified to be more inviting?

  • Provide a kitchen with sink, full-size refrigerator, stove, oven, and dishwasher
  • Provide plates, glasses, bowls, and silverware
  • Have seating for singles, pairs, small groups, and large groups
  • Have a cook prepare a lunch once per week
  • Hold department potlucks to encourage team-building
  • Hold snack-meetings at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

That single Adapt question led to many possible improvements. Next, you review possibilities and decide which ones work best given your goals and the time, team, and tools you can use to get the job done.

Or, you can try another SCAMPER category, such as Eliminate.

What would simplify the lunch room?

  • Remove the stained carpet and install a tile floor.
  • Throw out the old toaster oven.
  • Keep the two working vending machines but eliminate the broken one.
  • Replace the bulky tables with smaller ones that can easily be rearranged.
  • Replace the current chairs with ones that can slide fully under the tables.
  • Clean out the mini-fridge every Friday.
  • Eliminate two of the four trash receptacles.
  • Establish that employees should clean up after themselves.

You Try It!

  1. Name a product, service, or process that you would like to improve.
  2. Select one of the SCAMPER categories:
    • Substitute
    • Combine
    • Adapt
    • Magnify
    • Put to other uses
    • Eliminate
    • Rearrange
  3. Select a question from the category, and ask it about your product, service, or process.
  4. Answer the question in as many ways as you can.
  5. Evaluate your responses and decide which if any should become reality.

Get More Support

Check out the Write for Business Guide, Courses, and eTips for more support with SCAMPER and other improvement tools.