7 Steps to Process Improvement Success

Process improvement is about more than creating new flowcharts and Word documents; it's about improving the consistency and quality of execution, increasing efficiency, and facilitating innovation within your organization.

Not all process improvement efforts are created equal. Some fail to get buy-in from staff and leadership. Some fall short of linking process adjustments to long term goals. May don't result in an ongoing culture of improvement. And some cause more frustration than positive change.

Here are seven steps that are often overlooked, but are critical to the success of process improvement efforts in any organization. When you get these right, process improvement can be transformative.

1. Keep your eye on the prize

Link process improvement to both strategy and to your long-term goals. You won't make a lasting impact on your business if your aim is simply to put out fires. If you don't know where you're going, you'll find it difficult to gain ground. Start at the beginning: figure out your direction, and then leverage process improvement as a tool to achieve your long-term goals.

2. Be proactive

Pre-empt disaster – don't wait for things to go wrong before you improve them. The day that a DoS attack takes down your client's server is not the day to start thinking about security processes. Management by heroics is not the best approach. Be proactive and show intent when you make plans to tackle process improvement: look for issues with your processes and work proactively to fix the root causes of process problems.

3. Put your people at the core

No one knows your organization's processes better than your frontline staff. Involve your teams and make them the drivers of change. For instance, leverage the experience of the tech support rep who probably knows how to handle customer complaints better than the CEO. Of course, best results are guaranteed when management and senior leadership support also underpins process improvement efforts.

To put people at the core of your process improvement efforts:

  • Genuinely involve and engage them with process change
  • Let them use their knowledge as an advantage: they know what does and doesn't work, and what needs to change to provide a better experience for your customers
  • Improve capability and knowledge: your people improve their own processes and don't need training on them.

This will give your organization the benefit of a team with a positive attitude to change.

4. Just do it

There are organizations that swear by the startup mantra “Fail fast and learn”. Others favor a more calculated, cautious approach. So how fast should process improvements be implemented? While analysis and planning are important, waiting for the perfect moment can hold you back. A balance is probably best, depending on the situation. Process improvement is never complete: the most important thing is to make a start. And when it's an integrated, ever-evolving part of your business, challenges along the way are viewed as opportunities for growth, rather than failures.

5. Mix and merge

There isn't a team in your organization that doesn't have a part to play in process improvement. It isn't particular to any one function, even roles like risk, and health and safety which are often viewed as separate from the mainstream part of your business. By integrating them into the organization's improvement plan, they become tangible to your staff. Processes soon become something everyone does in their everyday work, not just “something that Kevin takes care of”.

6. Expect to make a long-term commitment

Your process improvement efforts shouldn't be something you do once and then forget about. You and your staff should think about improving your processes every day – make it part of your company culture and treat it like an ongoing project.

To establish a culture of improvement means measuring and celebrating success, rewarding ideas (even unused ones), linking improvement to organizational goals as well as KPIs, and making processes visible and accessible to everyone in the organization.

7. Keep your options open

There are a number of process improvement methodologies available like Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen and more. While it's great to find one that works for you, be flexible and make choices based on your situation and organization. Be open to different ideas and learn from people – you don't need to be married to a particular methodology.

Make sure your approach to improvement is well-suited to your organization – the more you integrate it into the everyday business, the more likely you are to be successful.

Process improvement doesn't need to be mysterious. To make your process improvement efforts successful, don't wait to get started: integrate it into everyday operations, be in it for the long haul and – most importantly – get your people involved.

Ivan Seselj

Ivan Seselj is CEO of Promapp Solutions, an industry leading provider of cloud-based process management (BPM) software for creating and storing business processes online. You can contact him at ivan.seselj@promapp.com or follow him at @Ivanseselj. You can visit Promapp at www.promapp.com.

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