Henry Ford once said, “Most people would rather work around problems than try to solve them.” Perhaps that’s why we often find ourselves addressing the same complaints, obstacles, and challenges hoping to never deal with them again. Well, hoping isn’t enough. Today, we must continuously improve and innovate not only to succeed, but to survive. Every day we hear about another corporation that, in just a few years, went from Wall Street darling to bankruptcy. So, how do we get on the path from reacting and fixing to preventing and improving?

What is Process Improvement?

Process Improvement is systematically making deliberate and purposeful changes to a process to improve its outcomes and meet customer requirements. To purposefully change a process, one must understand how it works, who’s involved, and how it’s performing relative to its requirements. Data collected from measurements must be analyzed to identify and address the barriers. This requires monitoring, analyzing, learning, planning, executing, and knowledge sharing.

With so many processes in an organization, where do we start? Following is a proven and straight-forward approach to implementing process improvement:

  1. Identify the 10-15 key processes in the organization which have significant impact on your mission.
  2. Identify the process owners and critical staff responsible for the bulk of the work in those processes. This will be about 50-75 people.
  3. Train them in Process Management tools and techniques. This consists of three days of basic training to include Yellow Belt, DMAIC, and Project Management. These courses will provide the essential skills for data analysis, stratification, root cause identification, and solution implementation.
  4. Define and Measure the processes to ensure stability (as discussed in Part 1: Process Management).
  5. Evaluate each process’s performance for gaps and apply the DMAIC method using the tools learned in the training. Implement the solutions and standardize the changes so performance will not degrade.

Once the key processes have been addressed, engage the rest of the workforce in the improvement business. Expose them to necessary process improvement skills either through the half-day White Belt or one-day Yellow Belt course. Either of these will give them the insights to identify additional opportunities for improvement and necessary skills to address day-to-day process issues.

Why is it Important?

 By continuing to identify more processes, training and engaging the workforce, and standardizing the changes, you will be improving not only individual processes, but also organizational-level performance. With these changes, a new culture will evolve based on confidence and capability for the benefit of customers and the workforce. Successful organizations don’t take pride in how many problems they have solved, rather, how many they’ve prevented from returning, and how many others they were able to avoid.

Note: For additional information on processes, refer to Process Management. Parts 1 of this series.