1. What defines process improvement success?
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than trying to solve them” – Henry Ford
It’s critical to improve an individual process not for the process’ sake, but because it helps to solve a business problem. Often, when your constituents say they’re unhappy with something, they haven’t really explored the root of the problem and what can be done to solve it effectively through a business process.
The main strategy here is to openly discuss your constituents’ core priorities and pains. Gather their input not just on processes they don’t like, but ones that they DO like. This will facilitate everyone’s understanding of why certain processes exist in the first place and the issues they were designed to alleviate. Once you’ve identified the business problem at the heart of this particular process, you must also identify what the process will do to address the problem, the parameters of the improvement and/or solution, and how you will measure success. On this last point, process improvements should be quantifiable and easy to map to common business metrics.
2. How can your process have the biggest impact?
If you’ve completed the activities above, you have likely achieved alignment between the organization’s overall objectives and the process that’s being improved upon. You should also ensure that the new process can evolve fluidly with business strategy and that it offers numerous opportunities for decision makers to track progress toward major goals.
As you can see, this type of thinking on process improvement leaves little room for the silo mentality. As Digital Clarity Group analyst Connie Moore succinctly put it while at Forrester: “While it’s possible to tackle projects within a single business function, usually high-value business processes belong with a larger, cross-functional way of working. Getting organizations to overlay their functional thinking and org charts with a process mindset is a challenge that often requires prying 100 years of crusted-over work patterns and practices from executives who have never imagined any other way.” So yes, if you want your process to have a larger impact, you have to talk to people outside your department.
3. How should the new business process be designed?
This is where business process modeling, otherwise known as BPM, comes into play. According to Creately.com, BPM is a mechanism for describing and communicating the current or intended future state of a business process. It’s a means of representing the steps, participants, and decision logic in business processes. By doing this in a formal way, you enable solid analysis and further improvement of these processes.
BPM is commonly a diagram representing a sequence of activities. This diagram shows events, actions and links or connection points, in the sequence from end to end. It’s often cross-functional, including both IT and people processes and combining the work and documentation of multiple groups in the organization. People, teams, and departments feature in BPM in terms of what they do, to what, when, and for what reasons – especially when different possibilities or options exist. BPM software is often used to apply its methods more efficiently.
4. How do we put together the right process improvement team?
This takes careful consideration and understanding of the people resources available to you. In an ideal world, you want every process improvement team member to have both capability and enthusiasm (i.e. they CAN do the work and they WANT to do the work). These core team members will be responsible for helping you evangelize the changes within the organization, and early and frequent communication about what’s happening, why, and how it impacts particular groups, is essential to building a support network.
Once you have the team in place, sit down with the members (in-person if you can), reiterate your purpose, success parameters, and resources, and make sure people understand their own roles as well as everyone else’s. If there are questions or conflicts, it’s best to address them now. Work together to create a code of conduct, as this will assist with focus both inside and outside of team meetings. Take the time to establish rapport between your team members, particularly if they haven’t worked together a lot before. Informal or social gatherings will cement the team camaraderie and trust that is necessary to sustain commitment through the difficult times.
5. How do we ensure buy-in?
Any significant process improvement requires an executive-level sponsor. As we’ve said here, the primary role of a sponsor is to provide ownership of and oversight over an initiative intended to accomplish a major business goal (i.e. your process). An effective sponsor is placed high enough in the organization to smooth the way for timely decision making and appropriate resource allocation.
Sponsors understand why and how this process is critical to business operations and the relationship it has with other parts of the company. They can persuade the higher-ups that the process is worth supporting and secure and sustain organizational commitment when more pressing issues threaten its resources.
How do you get a sponsor? It’s all about the business case, and specifically the financials. At the highest level of the organization, said Connie Moore, only two phrases typically resonate: 1) how much revenue will it create? and 2) how much profit will it add to the bottom line? If you can answer these questions without resorting to function speak or tech talk, you are likely to get their attention.
6. How do we work with IT?
For process improvement to be seamless, IT and the business need to be closely aligned. As Quickbase CIO Deb Gildersleeve believes strongly, IT and business users have to partner on the citizen development process to best work and improve processes.
“If the business isn’t involved, IT can only drive so much change,” Gildersleeve said in IDG’s recent report, Empowering Business Users for the Next Era of Digital Transformation. “You need to make sure everyone knows [business-led] development is a company initiative, that everyone plays their part, and that it doesn’t happen in disconnected silos.”
Organizations can leverage a Center of Excellence approach to enable effective process improvement and digital transformation. By creating cross-functional teams focused on process improvement, your teams can build the foundation for success.