First step in process improvement

The first step, I often see missed, in any process improvement activity is alignment of the process to the strategy.

In any process improvement, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, “Why is this process important in the first place and how does it support the mission?”

This is often not done. People take for granted that everything you do is in support of the mission and aligned to your strategy. However, having this discussion with yourself up front might eliminate not only the need for the process improvement, but you might remove the process all together.

When I was working in Intel, they had done away with a certain type of operation…people listening into communications over a specific channel. However, during a visit, by a senior commander, to a unit, he discovered a team that was still performing that operation several years later.

People ask, “How is that possible?” Well, in large organizations, operations become very diversified and if you aren’t constantly validating your role, you might find it to become obsolete.

However, the tendency is to say, “We’ve always done it, so it’s obviously required.”

That is a severe example above, but I have seen processes where something was produced that people had always produced and other people in the process were not even aware that there was someone producing something. Every day people would come to work and produce a product in relation to a large process that spanned an organization and they would file their results as they always had. All the while, the people in charge of the process were not even aware of what was going on. Essentially, that entire process step was a waste of effort and the final product they were creating wasn’t even being looked at.

How do these things happen?

We validate process needs at the beginning of the stand-up of a process, but then the years go by and we just keep working the way we’ve always done it. Meanwhile, people change out, the process changes, and maybe the process gets automated. Suddenly the need for one of the steps goes away.

However, no one told the people performing that step in the process, because no one knows that that part of the process even exists. Unfortunately, that part of the process is still accessing the system, on the email distribution for workflow, etc. and they’re happily working away at a process that someone already made obsolete.

So, when you are in the initial phase of your process improvement whether it be Plan, Define, or something else, ensure the relevancy of the process you are looking to improve. Research that stakeholder list using the SIPOC and go talk to the people in the process to ensure your work is still aligned and valid.

To solve this problem, before it gets this far, any process that spans multiple areas, as most processes do, it is best that that process meet regularly to discuss changes and impacts, validate expectations, and ensure relevancy in the process. This is the reason that people are ‘missing the memo’ that the process has changed, because the process is so siloed that no one knows what the other hand is doing.

However, even if you are meeting with the parts of the process regularly, ensure the relevancy and alignment of your process before you go through the effort of improving it.

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About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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