What Process Improvement Experts Don’t Want You To Know!

You made a commitment in your company to improve a variety of processes that needed fixing – purchasing, inventory management, new employee orientation – to name a few.  You received feedback from your staff that these systems and processes needed fixing.  So, you hired several consultants to help you redesign the processes.  They worked with a few of your staff and made some recommendations for changes to each of these processes.

You decided that the recommendations made sense so you agreed to implement the changes.

The Problem Begins

To your surprise, and perhaps dismay, the recommended changes that are made to these several processes are not well-received by staff, vendors, and customers.  Hmmm, feedback being received has a recurring theme: “why didn’t you ask us our opinions?”  Now you are faced with a dilemma – your key stakeholders are not embracing the changes they asked for.

Is It Time To Back Up?

Perhaps.  Let me ask a few questions.

  1. What were the driving forces for the changes: doing more with less resources, getting more productivity from the same number of people?
  2. Are the processes effective: could they be improved, are they resulting in customer dissatisfaction?
  3. Why do you want to improve the process: customer satisfaction, increased outputs, decreased costs?
  4. How did you arrive at the answers to these questions: did you ask your staff, vendors, and customers?
  5. How did you engage them?

That’s What They Hired Me For!

I’m reminded that one manager told me that his job was to identify problems, come up with solutions, and implement the changes.  He did not need anyone else.  When reminded that he was not the only person endowed with a brain that could reason and think…well, the end of that story for another time.

Ask, Engage, And You Will Receive

There are many models for process improvement, however, a key element is the use of teams; usually employees who can model the process, measure current costs and time, and measure improvements.

The Process of Improvement

All process improvement models provide a repeatable set of steps, are easy to learn and follow, and works so long as it creates a common language for continuous improvement. The basic elements include:

  • Selecting the process to improve,
  • Describing current process,
  • Describing problems and agree on causes,
  • Developing effective solution(s),
  • Implementation, and
  • Review and evaluation.

The Team

Yes, perhaps where the loss of support began.  Without a team of involved and engaged employees motivated to review, analyze, evaluate opportunities for changes, recommend changes, and measure the effectiveness of the changes – continuously, most process change will be challenging.  All too often the formation of the process team is overlooked.

Most teams are characterized by the following, either an internal team (involved) or a cross-functional team (interested and involved).  Team members are typically selected by peers, but typically not by management.  Ensure there is neutral team facilitation, and that the team has, at its disposal, the use of a variety of process improvement tools to assist it in their work.

One of my preferred methods for my clients is to provide a Train the Trainer program so that internal trainers can help facilitate and guide the team’s process review.

As respects the guidance to provide to the team, I’m reminded of General George S. Patton’s advice to his Generals:

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

The Process of Process Improvement

Remember that business is a collection of interconnected processes and systems, each needing constant attention to the need for continuous improvement.  Remember also to work with your staff, vendors, and customers to identify systems that need some fine tuning, encourage and support the development of a team or teams to develop and implement solutions, and encourage and support the continuous improvement of your systems and processes.

Just think, the positive changes brought by continuous process improvement and the positive results in workforce alignment and employee engagement by themselves are an added value and worth the price of admission. Need training?

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