Three Essential Steps of Process Improvement

Improving performance. It’s the name of the game for business of all types. We focus on improving how we do what we do in the hopes of achieving greater reward.

But sadly, working faster or even smarter doesn’t always hit the mark we aim for. Process improvement is not an equation that works as predictably as 2=2=4. There are many variables; however there is a process that if followed, will create positive results.

1.  Measure where you currently are
Too often, we jump right in to trying to “fix things” without really knowing what needs to be fixed. Before you can successfully improve any process or task, you must first take an honest and accurate assessment of where you currently are. What about your process isn’t working? A poor hand-off of tasks among your team requires a very different solution than a lack of skill or knowledge with tasks being completed.

In addition, it’s important to do more than simply identify the problem. You must also measure it. This is Goal Setting 101, but until we place metrics to our current condition, how will we ever know we’ve made any significant improvement.

Stabilize the current process
Think about a patient on the operating table. He may have many internal injuries that need attention, but until you stop the bleeding, your efforts are futile to save him. That’s the concept of stabilization. Once you have confronted the brutal facts of specifically what needs to improve, you must get it to a point that is no longer detrimental – stop the bleeding, so to speak. If skill deficiencies are the issue, then rearrange resources – on a temporary basis – to successfully complete the tasks that need attention. Whatever the need, move into emergency mode and address it.

During this process, it is essential that you communicate clearly to all involved what is happening. In any emergency mode, roles change and urgency is key so be sure to keep people informed on the why’s and status of your improvement plan.

Improve identified targets
Now, this is usually where we jump in to fix everything. However, this is step #3 in our plan not step #1. Because you have been thorough in identifying where/what needs improvement and have implemented a temporary solution, you can spend the time, energy and resources required to make the necessary improvements. There are several benefits to this approach. For skill deficiencies, your team will appreciate gaining the needed resources to do the job. While gaining competency (and confidence) take time, you will know the job is being done correctly. Your pace may be slower than desired at first, but the performance will be correct. 

For the people issues that cause problems (and let’s face it, they can be many), you have the opportunity to “reset” the team so to speak. What is your team’s purpose? What are the client’s expectations? How do we measure success? The answers to each of these questions allow your team members to make a choice of being involved and committed.

If that cannot occur, you have the opportunity to make the changes necessary so those goals can be achieved (and those team members have actually made that choice as well). This part of the process also takes time and let’s be honest, is the most dreaded. But again, you have the benefit of working toward very specific targets that have been identified along the way.

Now, for those of you who are really determined to take your team and organization to the next level of performance, you really have one more step: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Successful organizations don’t stop with one improved process. They recognize the journey and reality that this process must be reiterated in every area of the business – including the process you just improved. You are never “done”.

So, is there any encouragement in this task? Is it time-consuming? Yes. Is it difficult? Often, yes. Will some players complain? You can count on it. But take heart. You don’t have to worry about the organizations that don’t do this. They won’t be around. Bu you will.

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