Catalytic Management Consulting
Accelerating Growth, Driving Performance

Drive Results with Process Improvement

If asked, you would probably admit that process improvement has been part of your strategic plan for XX years (fill in the blank). But like many companies, while embracing the concept and its value, you find that implementing process improvement just never seems to happen.

Living in the moment, firefighting, launching new products and simply disliking such operational issues are just some of the barriers to actually implementing a process improvement initiative.

Face it, process improvement is not as sexy as saying you launched a new product, a new technology or a new sales approach. It’s like replacing the plumbing when what you want is a whole new bathroom.

But the time for improving the way you do business is now, and in the current economic climate, it is imperative. The six Ps will be your guide. And remember, the results, well, what business wouldn’t like to:

  • Reduce costs
  • Improve margins
  • Improve morale and
  • Improve customer relationships

Achieving those results is found in following the six Ps of process improvement.

Prioritize

Just as your company can’t be all things to all of your customers, your process improvement initiative must be focused and discreet. Start by focusing on areas where you and your customers will reap the greatest and fastest benefits.

Realizing a result quickly is especially important for your first project—save the big, complicated ones for later when your team is experienced at such initiatives and past successes will fuel them past the inevitable rough spots.

Prioritize based on saving one of three things: time, money and energy.

If the process you choose to improve affects your customers in any way, seek their input in advance. Ask if this would be their priority. Ask what value, if any, improving the process will have for them. If what you want to address is not ranked highly by your customers, consider choosing another process to work on.

Purpose

Clearly define the desired outcome of the process improvement initiative. What metrics will illustrate success? Can you track the savings you anticipate? Do you have existing metrics against which you can compare the project results?

Securing buy-in from your team and the company rests on a clear, definable and agreed-upon purpose and goal.

Process project charter

The improvement team should create a process project charter that defines:

  • Purpose, goals and success metrics
  • Project team member roles and responsibilities
  • Levels of decision-making authority
  • Stakeholders, internal and external
  • Project management plan and timelines
  • Reporting and meeting frequency.

The charter should be the guide for the project. It ensures consistency, reduces competing agendas, drives accountability and ensures transparency throughout the project.

People

It could be argued that managing people is the most critical success factor in process improvement projects. It begins with selecting the right people for the process leadership team.

While it is important to have people on the team from departments or divisions that will implement improvement, who you select is vital. Ignore titles. Team members must be leaders, but titles don’t necessarily signify real leadership.

Select people with positive, can-do attitudes. You want people who ask, “Why not?” backed by analytical members who will contribute the careful examination necessary to turn innovation into reality.

And don’t overlook the contributions your customers can and should make to the effort. Seek their input before, during and after the initiative.

Prove

Risk taking is admirable when you consider improvement options and when developing new products, but it can be disastrous if you roll out a new process without testing it first.

Nothing works right the first time, and if you’ve ever assembled toys at Christmas, you know that the brightest and the best still need practice. Test your new process.

Running a redundant process for a short period may increase work load but it will absolutely prevent disaster. Explain to your customers that for a short period you are testing a new procedure and would like their input and their patience. Advance warning that things may be different will prevent surprises, and no one likes surprises less than your customers.

Profit

You’re in business to make a profit and you need to know how the improvement project contributed to profit. Did the initiative reduce costs, increase your margins, speed a new product to market or in any other ways contribute to the bottom line?

Some process improvement projects don’t possess characteristics that can be directly traced to the bottom line but they must have measurable results. If the goal was to improve customer relationships, then the “how” must be measurable. If the goal was to save time, the “how much” must be measurable.

The most successful improvement projects also create a plan for capitalizing on the improvement. What future rewards can you reap as a result of the improvement? What actions can you take to achieve that future reward? Will you be able to earn new business? Will your sales cycle time be reduced? Can you reap new business from existing accounts?

Tracking the anticipated rewards will provide ammunition and incentive to create a continuous improvement environment—seen by many as the Holy Grail of business.

Improving how your company does business through process improvement is a concrete method of improving margins and reducing costs.

It improves competitiveness without the cost of new products or reduced pricing.

It enhances your customer relationships, which should lead to an increase in revenue per account.

It adds value to your customers, which should improve margins through higher, more value-focused pricing.

It attracts new business and enhances your quality reputation. The beauty of this approach to contributing to your bottom line is that it is entirely up to you. You drive the results, not the marketplace.

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