Isn’t any time a good time for process improvement? Well yes, but in today’s market, where maximizing resources and eliminating waste is a necessity, this could be the missing piece of your business strategy. After all, it was Bill Gates who said, “A rule of thumb is that a lousy process will consume ten times as many hours as the work itself requires.” No one has that kind of time.
Unless your organization already practices one of the many process improvement methodologies out there, such as Six Sigma or Lean/Agile, don’t get too bogged down in the specifics, they are all designed to streamline what you currently do. Here we’re going to look at the basic steps of what you can put into place immediately:
- Question what you have now.
Ask yourself what’s working. Where are you at risk? What’s taking too much time? Ask your team the same questions. Be sure to let everyone weigh-in, from sales to service to operations. In fact, you’ll get more buy-in if you cast a wider net. Build your wish list and get started.
- Map your current process.
If this is your first time trying this, choose a relatively simple process to start. It doesn’t have to be the heaviest hitter or the one you expect to be the most beneficial – work your way up to that. Map the current procedure from beginning to end. Document the process “needs”. It’s probably best to complete this step with a small, potentially independent group so you have multiple eyes on the result.
- Analyze your results and identify issues.
Are all the steps represented? Where are your bottlenecks? Where is work repeated? Where do you spend the most time and money? When you find an issue, trace it back to its source. You won’t be able to solve the problem if you don’t understand how or where it’s starting but don’t look to place blame.
- Design your ideal process.
Imagine (and document) what the ideal process would look like. Don’t censor yourself here. Map out the “perfect” process, step by step. Many teams skip this one, claiming that since a “perfect world” is unrealistic, this is a pointless exercise. On the contrary! Look at what has worked elsewhere. This step is designed to push you out of the status-quo mindset and set a benchmark for success.
- Map a new process.
Once you know what you’re striving for, you can determine what’s possible RIGHT NOW. Diagram a new proposed process. Ask your team for feedback, make alterations and put it through a number of situational walk-throughs. Make sure people see the value or benefits.
- Acquire Resources.
Now that you have your proposed process you need to develop the business case for the additional and necessary headcount and expertise to get it done? This could include resources from other departments but also external resources that won’t be distracted by ongoing needs or internal bias and will bring experience from multiple process improvement projects successfully implemented.
- Test drive and “finalize” the new process.
It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay according to the GEMO mindset. The Good Enough, Move On mantra encourages you to engage, take quick action and that’s right, move on. The point is to continuously iterate and systematically improve in real time. You can always revisit the same process in the future.
- Communicate and execute.
Once you have a “final” version of the process, communicate the changes to your teams and begin executing. Encourage teams to share feedback while they’re using the new process. Where it’s appropriate, solicit cross-functional feedback to get a full picture of how it’s going. Where have we gotten better? What steps still need work?
- Monitor and iterate.
Finally, schedule frequent check-ins to see how things are going – even if it’s a simple email asking for comments or reactions. Continuous feedback will allow you to continuously improve.
As your teams get more experience with process improvement, they’ll become more comfortable with the notion of iteration. Remember, the goal is not to deliver a “perfect” process out of the gate, but to create a culture of continuous advancement and optimization.