Jumpstarting Process Improvement in Your Organization: The Top 10 Essentials (Part 9 of 10) – Methodology

Essential #9:  An established process improvement methodology.  There is a raging debate among process improvement nerds as to the best improvement methodology.  The danger in becoming married to a methodology is the perception by the staff that process improvement itself is merely the latest management fad.  On the flip side, homegrown or generic process improvement models often lack the tools and structure required to solve complex problems.  I have gone to great lengths in this series to talk about process improvement rather than espousing any particular framework. But, at the end of the day, an organization must choose a set of tools and use them effectively.   Here are four considerations when selecting a process improvement tool kit.

  1. Availability of training and support.  Choosing an off-the-wall framework can result in lack support, online resources, training, and templates.  Choosing a well-known model (Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, for example) will allow your team to access a wide variety of support material, user forums, quick reference guides, and industry-specific standards.  Other, lesser-known methods might work fine in a short-term context, but may be somewhat limiting in the long run.
  2. Established terminology.  A clear sign that the process improvement effort is going well is when frontline staff begin to adopt the principles of process improvement.  Outward evidence their acceptance is their usage of the terminology.  A standard process improvement model supports an on-going and sustainable culture and language.  Imprecise language, lack of standardization, and inconsistent messaging will definitely confuse workforce, frustrate the managers, and work against the goal of sustainability.
  3. Consistency across the organization.  In large organizations or those in multiple geographical locations, it becomes very difficult to internally develop a sustainable process improvement model.  Each location will feel the need to tweak or re-engineer the methodology.  However, a standard, well-known model tend to withstand bastardization and can be used just as effectively in Kansas, Canada, or Caracas.  Tying in the aspects of training and terminology, a common approach allows for local, language-specific training almost anywhere in the world.
  4. Consistency across multiple specialists.  Hopefully, but unlikely, your company will be able to retain its process improvement specialists over many years.  As your experts come and go, adopting an established methodology allows your company maintain momentum.  A standard will also allow you to hire from a wider pool of trained professionals.  If you choose to adopt a lesser-known framework, it might require additional investment in salary, training, or time to bring new hires up to speed.

There is a real temptation on the part of organizations to save money by foregoing the adoption of an established process improvement model.  It is likely cheaper in the short term to Google a few terms, throw together a couple of PowerPoint slides, and call it “Process Improvement 101.”  However, for the reasons outlined, here, it’s just not sustainable.  Process improvement done right will save your company 10-40% of costs.  Why not just spend the money and use what has been proven to work?

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