Analyzing and re-designing processes can be a tricky endeavor. It often requires us to speak to a wide range of stakeholders and gain a detailed understanding of how the work flows through the organization. It also requires us to understand the different types of demand that the organization must respond to. However, in many cases an even bigger challenge is to build sufficient momentum to make the change happen and also ensure that it persists.
It is remarkably easy to make wide-ranging changes to a process model on paper or in a process modeling tool, however such changes can have a very broad and significant impact when actually implemented. Merging two swimlanes is easy to do on paper, but this might have a wide ranging impact for those that do the work (perhaps implying the need to multi-skill the existing team, or even to change the organizational structure). Streamlining work by refining or removing steps might look extremely logical on paper, but the benefits will only be yielded if people actually follow the new process. If we do not build momentum and drive engagement, there is always a danger that people will tacitly reject the changes, reverting back to old ways of working. If the changes do not seem sensible from the process operators’ perspective, they may decide to "bolt on" workarounds, which might lead to increased delays or even costs. They will undoubtedly do so with the best of intentions but this is a situation best avoided.
Momentum Is Key
It is important to build and maintain momentum within process improvement initiatives. This involves thinking broad and wide and starts by identifying those who will be involved with, or impacted by, the change. These are often the very people that have detailed knowledge of current ways of working, and will be the people who we will speak with to understand the current situation. This can often be a wide and dispersed population, and it may be the case that we liaise with nominated representatives or "super users" who represent their relevant area and bring specialist expertise. Yet, it is important to remember that all members of the teams will eventually need to operate the new process, so it is worth considering an engagement and communication plan that ensures others have the opportunity to input also. Super users might be nominated to act as local advocates, but for larger changes it may also be useful to publish general updates, or hold "roadshows" to ensure everyone understands the scale and scope of the improvement initiative and why it is being progressed.
Ensuring the underlying objectives (the "why") of the project are clearly articulated and communicated is crucially important. Too often, people are left to wonder precisely why change is happening, and this can lead to a feeling of apathy or even resistance. It also means that staff cannot effectively contribute their own suggestions—without knowing what the aim is it is hard for anyone to look for focused improvements. Ensuring there is a shared understanding of the core objectives will help to build a firm foundation from which momentum can emerge. If the objectives are inspiring, this can go even further towards driving engagement. Even if the objectives are more routine in nature, engagement and buy-in can be gained by thinking about the outcomes that will be achieved that each stakeholder group will perceive as most positive. Tailoring the message and focusing on the areas that each group actually care about can help ensure that interest is created.
Providing regular updates, along with opportunity for people to give feedback, is another key for ongoing success. Too often on major change programs communication is sporadic. Perhaps a briefing is given outlining the grand vision, but then nothing follows—leading to a communication vacuum emerging. It seems to be human nature that communications vacuums get filled with rumor and suspicion! Conversely, if there are meaningful updates, at pertinent times, the energy and enthusiasm can be sustained.
Organizations and projects that take these things into account, that consider their stakeholders and engage and communicate well will likely have more successful process improvement projects than those that don’t. It is well worth considering these factors when embarking on such an initiative!