Jumpstarting Process Improvement in Your Organization: The Top 10 Essentials (Part 2 of 10) – Jason Kilgore

The second post in the series on what it takes to initiate a formalized process improvement effort within your organization by Jason Kilgore

Essential #2:  Commitment to continuous improvement at the top of the organization.  While this sounds a bit cliché or you might think, “no duh,” this really is mission-critical.  Top leadership serves the most vital role in establishing and sustaining a process improvement program for three major reasons.

  1. Funding – Top management can choose to fund or not to fund any process improvement activities, staffing, or training.  If, in the minds of senior leadership, process improvement is an expense rather than an investment, the effort will fail. 
  2. Barrier-busting – Every process improvement project hits a wall at some point.  Whether the wall is of brick or marshmallow depends largely on the level of change required.  When the wall is hit, the company’s leaders will be called upon to remove the barrier.  The extent to which the barrier is removed will determine the success or failure of the project.  Company-wide success is won and lost one project at a time.  Passive leadership can destroy the process improvement effort just as quickly as a lack of funding.
  3.  Accountability – Leaders must hold those leading the process improvement charge accountable.  If not, process improvement specialists will drift – drift away from the key objectives of the organization.  They will tend to focus on novelty, low ROI, or easy projects.  Structural accountability from top management ensures that the effort is directed at the appropriate opportunities. 

While tactically, process improvement is best achieved via grassroots effort, strategically, it is a top down affair.  I had a spirited debate with a colleague on the best approach for deploying a sustainable process improvement program.  Both of us having gone through it before, I argued top-down.  He argued bottom-up.  Midway through our lunchtime debate, we finally agreed on the Oreo cookie method:  strategy must come from the top down; training and implementation from the bottom up.  Both of these require proactive leadership from those who have the power to fund, empower, and hold accountable those doing the work.   

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