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Process Improvement: Make it happen

Processes, processes, processes, what’s the purpose of all the processes that govern our lives? They certainly have merit and can aid us in many ways:

  • They create repeatable steps that deliver consistent output.
  • They should be derived from critical thinking which avoids hasty decisions.
  • They optimize a flow of work to create a product or service.
  • They allow quality to be ‘baked in‘ by having steps check for mistakes or by making sure output meets standards and quality requirements.
  • They usually involve multiple people which produces output with a greater diversity of thought and establishes communication between people.

But processes can also hinder our lives and daily routines:

  • Sometimes they introduce unnecessary delays waiting for approvals.
  • They allow people to shirk work. “That’s not my job” or “We don’t provide that service”
  • They can stifle innovation because people are not free to make decisions to make their product or service better. I’m referring to instances when something happens outside the normal or expected boundaries of a process. Does the worker have the freedom to satisfy the customer?
  • They may have unnecessary repeated steps.
  • They may have delays or wait times in which no work is being accomplished.

Who is responsible for maintaining and improving processes within the workplace? Even the most well intentioned or once efficient process may fall out of bounds over time. Requirements, external inputs, or people may change which could have an influence on the process output. W. Edwards Deming wrote in his book “The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education
” that it is management’s job direct the efforts of their organization towards the aim of the system. The first step according to Deming is to make sure that everyone understands the processes and the system.

Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” states that “Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which arise from having the wrong people on the bus.  A culture of discipline involves a duality On the one hand, it requires people who adhere to a consistent system; yet, on the other hand, it gives people freedom and responsibility within the framework of the system.”

I agree with the thoughts of Collins and Deming. It is the job of management to monitor and maintain the output of the process. While workers use a process to perform work, management has oversight to view results and authorize corrective action. Yet some managers choose not to improve a process because they don’t want to change the status quo as it might call attention to themselves. If the results are worse, then they will be held accountable and look bad. I think they find safety behind the existing process whether it works efficiently or not. Yet processes that are left unturned can lead to results that are not superior and ultimately reflect on the ability of the manager to produce.

Organizational managers hiding behind a process need to get over themselves.

Processes create a safety net for some decision makers because they are accepted by the organization. They wouldn’t think of challenging the status quo. Yet the process itself may be leading people to actions that are  detrimental to the overall health of the organization.

To help organizations provide better products and services, managers should be involved with managing processes for greater efficiency. Here are four steps for process monitoring and improvement:

  1. Know what processes your staff are following
    • Have a flow chart printed
    • Understand the reason for each step
  2. Look for steps that can be eliminated
    • Redundant steps. This could be the same step performed by multiple people or the same step performed multiple times.
    • Don’t produce output that contributes to the system goal
  3. Reduce or eliminate wait times if possible
    • Waiting for external inputs
    • Waiting for approvals
    • Waiting for other steps to finish
  4. Give those closest to the work the ability to make decisions as long as they stay in the boundaries of producing the goal.
    • They are the subject matter experts
    • They may be the front line with your customer.
    • Increases innovative ideas.
    • Provides ownership/responsibility.
    • Increases critical thinking

Doing this will increase your likelihood of success because your processes will stay in tune with keeping customers happy. Your employees will stay motivated and find greater job satisfaction.