There are many ways of approaching a process improvement initiative. If a set of processes have not been examined or adapted for a lengthy period of time, then there may be a significant number of 'quick wins' that become glaringly obvious the moment that each process is modeled. We can capitalize on these opportunities quickly, creating valuable improvements in a very short space of time. Alongside this, by examining end-to-end processes and the environment in which they operate, we may discover larger, longer term and more systemic improvements too. Whichever approach we take when undertaking process improvement, there is always an element of innovation. We work with our stakeholders to question the status quo, to question assumptions, and ultimately to create something new and different.
Whilst incremental innovation and seeking marginal gains can be extremely beneficial, some processes may benefit from a major overhaul – focusing on the process goals – and this might require a different type of innovation. It may require us to change the way we think about the process, leading to a subtle change in our underlying mental models. If we change the way that we think about the process we might uncover new and more effective and efficient ways of defining and designing it. One of the many possible ways of inspiring this innovation is to take a 'process vacation' – that is to actively consider how other industries have solved their problems.
A Process Vacation: Looking Outside Your Industry
This idea of a ‘process vacation’ probably sounds rather abstract, so let’s take an example. Imagine you work in a budget hotel. You notice that there are queues at the check-in desk every day at 5pm – yet you know that the check-in process is already extremely efficient. Further efficiency gains are unlikely to be possible, and even if they are achieved they would likely be very small. You can't employ more people (as this would affect your cost base, which wouldn't fit with your value proposition as a budget hotel).
You might ask how has the budget airline industry solved a similar problem? A few moments research will generate a range of possible ideas. Perhaps people could check in and provide payment details online in advance, only needing to pick up their key on arrival. Or perhaps you could install self-service check-in (and check-out) booths in the foyer, which guests could use in peak times. Perhaps with a complete change of technology you could remove the obligation to check in at the hotel at all, allowing customers to use their credit card to access their room. With further brainstorming, a plethora of other potential ideas could be generated.
Of course, each of these bring their own costs and challenges as well as advantages, and not every idea will be feasible, but these are innovations that could be considered and may not have immediately been front of mind. Looking outside has spawned additional ideas, using solutions from other contexts as prompts for innovation.
In fact, it can be an enlightening exercise, as a practitioner of change, to make a point of making a note of any extremely good and extremely bad processes that you experience in daily life. As consumers we all have these experiences – and taking the time to note them down provides an opportunity to reflect. Perhaps the experience you have with your electricity company will inspire you to make a change to your product support processes. Or perhaps an experience with an Accounts Payable department may inspire you to change how your organization interfaces with its suppliers.
In summary: Innovation can come from many angles. One way of inspiring a shift in mind-set can be to borrow ideas from other industries, however unrelated or crazy they might first appear!