In this blog post, we dive deeper into the key metrics to target when trying to improve a process. Each step is crucial to the long-term impact and sustainability of the new process. These components include: improving the process itself, creating supportive tools, and developing behaviours that sustain the process.
Getting to the Core of Process Improvement
One misconception that we often hear is that process improvement is a one-time event – once a process is removed, there is no further action required. This could not be further from the reality of process improvement. If only it were that easy!
When it comes to process improvement, there are three layers to work through before getting to the core of a truly improved process: improving the process itself, developing tools that support the process, and instilling behaviours that sustain the improved process.
Improving the process is the first step of process improvement. To do so, it is important to understand the process at its current state, which can be achieved through process mapping and process observation.
When evaluating processes in their current state, it is important to discern steps in the process that are value-added versus non-value added. Value-added steps are those that a customer would be willing to pay for, and non-value added steps are anything that can be classified as waste.
Once the non-value-added steps have been identified, actions can be taken to improve the process by reducing or eliminating non-value-added steps. A great way to garner your team’s buy in is to involve them in the process improvement; employees who are closest to the process often have shortcuts to get the process done quicker, in essence, removing the non-value added time. This is a great place to start when designing a new process.
For example, and for the sake of nostalgia, let’s consider someone’s commute to work as the process in question. In evaluating the process, you may identify that there is a faster route to be taking, ultimately reducing the non-value-added time spent travelling to work.
Before implementing a newly designed process, identify any tools that may be needed to support the improved process. Often, this may be a decision-matrix, a scheduling tool, or a tracking sheet.
Tools should be designed with the end-user in mind. What this means is simplifying the usability of the tool, and minimizing the number of manual inputs that need to be made. For example, if a tracking sheet has been developed, ask yourself if there is opportunity to automate any element of this tool.
To support the successful implementation of new tools, robust procedures should be written to increase adoption. Think of these procedures as the set of instructions that come with using a tool. Procedures should be simple yet all-encompassing, should be broken down into step-by-step line items and, where applicable, include screen-shot of the tool.
Following our example from above about a commute to work, a new route to work will only succeed if it is supported with directions on how to follow the new route.
Behaviour – The Core!
Lastly, at the core of every process improvement is the changed behaviour that forms around instilling a culture of continuous improvement. In a previous post, we talked about how to manage distributed workforces using daily huddles, results measurements, and schedule checks. These three methods are great ways to establish structured communication paths and feedback loops within your organization to ensure process improvement ideas are sustained.
Using the example from above, a new commute to work is only as good as the behaviour. For example, someone may have a new route mapped out and step by step directions on how to follow this route, but if they habitually take the old route, then the new commute will not be a success.
Behaviour change starts at the top, and how managers spend their time influences how the department moves towards a behaviour of continuous improvement. There are five ways managers can spend their time:
- Active Management – Involves proactively discussing results and targets with your teams
- Training – Scheduled training time is a great way to engrain continuous improvement in your company’s culture. This time is a great opportunity to introduce new tools and train team members on the procedures associated with each tool, further supporting the improved processes.
- Administration – This time is typically associated with desk and computer work, such as responding to emails and completing departmental administration such as payroll.
- Direct Work – Direct work is work that is normally done by an employee, that sometimes the manager needs to jump in and work on.
- Available to Supervise – This is reactive time spent resolving issues or “fire fighting”. Though not an ideal use of a manager’s time, we understand that this bucket is a “necessary evil” and is often required in most roles.
While there is no ideal breakdown of how to bucket your time, we recommend spending at least 20% of each day in the Active Management category, and at least 5% each week Training. This will ensure your behaviours, as well as the behaviours of your team, align with a culture of continuous improvement.
The Core of Process Improvement
As we have outlined, process improvement does not stop once the process is improved. In fact, that’s where it all begins. There are additional steps that can be taken to ensure the process improvement sticks, such as supporting the improved process with robust tools, and modelling behaviours to support and sustain improvement within the organization.
At Propel, we are experts in process improvement. Our proven methodology ensures that your leadership team is well equipped to improve processes, and we work with your teams to develop a robust toolkit of management and process tools to ensure successful adoption of new processes. Additionally, our team of PROSCI Change Management certified consultants will work alongside your team to coach and train new behaviours to support continuous improvement initiatives.
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