Driving better process change in half the time

3 questions that will speed up business improvement

Jeff Cole

What if I told you that "Process Improvement” is really just a code word for "Process Change"? At some point you’ll need to tell people involved in the process to stop doing things the old way and please start doing them the new way. The track record of being successful in process change is kind of dismal – the global corporate landscape is littered with burned-out husks of supposedly slam-dunk successful improvements gone awry in rollout. Well-intentioned and intelligent teams surround the smoking wreckage, scratching their heads and pondering what the heck went wrong. 

What is your definition of a successful process change? I’ve always been partial to this one: You achieve your improvement objectives on time, on budget, and when the dust settles, there aren’t a lot of dead bodies lying about. That means you didn’t bull-doze through an organization with your process change using some form of brute-force implementation with zero regard to any collateral damage you may be generating in other areas. Brute-force is tempting because it is fast, but successful change that sticks can take time – but shouldn’t take forever. Process changes can absolutely move faster than the glacially-slow speed at which many corporate changes poke along.

So how can we generate fast process change that sticks and do so in a healthy fashion? Thanks for asking – I can tell by your question that you are a smart and attractive person… Sometimes, changing our project management mindset by asking a few questions right up front can help. Here are three questions, and simply asking those early in the improvement effort, have helped some to cut implementation time in half:

Tip #1: People Count (A Lot) So How Can We Involve Them Early & Often?
It’s easy in methods like Lean and Six Sigma to get so focused on the technical aspects of architecting process changes that we don’t consider the people aspect until rollout – and that’s way too late! As early in the improvement effort as the discovery or definition phases we can be involving those who will be impacted by this change. A subtle but important note: It’s better to have a change done with you rather than to you. Early involvement builds a sense of ownership that can significantly reduce later resistance issues in rollout. Tools like Catchball, FMEAs, Fishbone diagrams, Process Mapping, etc. are all great ways to involve members of your larger target audience – not just your core team.

Tip #2: How Will We Assess Our Human-Side Risks?
You and I can have the best process in the world but if the humans who need to actually follow that process don’t do so, we’ve wasted our time and money. Any improvement or change that may be controversial or large is likely to meet with some resistance. Better to know about that in advance so you can manage it. Tools like a Stakeholder Assessment can help you think through which groups will be impacted, what their reaction and potential questions may be, and then plan (in advance) ways to mitigate any anticipated risks.

Tip #3: What Is Our Plan For Robust Communications Throughout The Project?
Many teams grossly underestimate the amount of effort in and volume of communications that need to go into a successful process change. Your project may be just one of 48 different things an employee will hear about in a given day. Don’t expect your artfully crafted poster or masterfully written email to be remembered. Think of multiple communications using multiple methods in order to get your message across. It bears repeating that we should be communicating with our target audience over the full duration of the improvement project – not just at the end. Tools like a Communications Plan are essential to ensuring that a robust flow communications to the right audiences from the right senders at the right times is happening.

These are very healthy questions to be asking and I hope they aid you as they have others. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my pets are indicating that “Dogs count (a lot) so how about involving us in some belly rubs and play time?” Happy change!