Process Improvement: The Radical Way isn't the Only Way

Deliver small significant changes quickly

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Process improvement initiatives provide a perfect opportunity for collaboration and co-creation. A well facilitated and planned process improvement initiative will allow stakeholders with different areas of expertise to discuss, collaborate, challenge existing processes and envisage better and more efficient ways of working. Different departments can work together to understand the impacts of potential improvement ideas and appreciate each other’s perspectives. Since key stakeholders are an integral part of the innovation and process redesign cycle, it is much easier to foster ongoing engagement and work cross-functionally to co-create a superior future process.

A well run process problem solving session can generate a wide range of different ideas. If we are examining a process that has not been reviewed or managed for some time, there may be a vast range of options for improvement. Perhaps the process relies on a range of paper forms which are keyed (multiple times) into different and disparate IT systems. Or perhaps there are painful manual steps that can be simplified and then automated, freeing up staff to undertake more valuable and more rewarding work. Improvement opportunities may be easy to imagine and there may be some very large scale and high value changes suggested. Perhaps a radical change is suggested such as a major IT change, organizational change or so on. During our analysis we may uncover a range of potential ‘radical’ suggestions, some of which may be proved to be feasible and desirable.

It is easy, when participating and running these sessions, to think that the radical way is the only way. Often it seems intuitive that these heavy-hitting changes will have the most benefit and stakeholders may well gravitate towards them – even if they are the most costly options. A robust feasibility and business case may even prove them to be beneficial, and it is easy to think that we should accelerate solely towards these options. Not to mention the fact that it can be very interesting working on these types of projects!

Yet changes of this nature can be tricky and time consuming to implement. A major and radical change will require careful planning, requirements analysis, integration, testing and so on. Even trickier than the solution implementation can be the communication and engagement—ensuring that the solution not only meets the organizational and process-user’s needs, but also that there is appropriate and regular engagement so that the solution is readily adopted. This can seem like a gargantuan task taking far longer than some stakeholders would like. It can cause some stakeholders to perceive our change processes as slow, bureaucratic and inhibiting.   

This can lead to a pattern of cynicism. We encourage ‘blue sky thinking’ in our brainstorming and innovation sessions, and then change takes time. If we are not careful, stakeholders may perceive that the lines of communication go cold. Nothing changes – people on the front line assume that their ideas have been ignored as they see no progress. Resentment grows, even though in reality these ideas continue to be shaped and progressed.

Of course, communication and expectation management are key antidotes in such a situation. Yet, an equally valid and important consideration is the creation of a change road-map. Whilst radical options may be the best long-term option, it may be more valuable to consider an incremental and visible progression towards those changes. Perhaps there is the opportunity to deliver some smaller yet valuable change quicker, which will validate that we are on the right lines, before we commit to a significant spend on a radical option.

This is akin to breaking our major process changes down into manageable chunks. We test and learn as we implement, validating our value hypotheses ready to pivot if our environment changes. We build credibility with our stakeholders by delivering small (but significant) changes quickly. In summary, taking an incremental approach to the overall initiative allows us to co-create value along the way. We help to de-risk the initiative and bring our stakeholders with us.

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