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Better processes are as easy as 5, 6, 7, 8

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Like any change the idea of embarking on a process improvement journey can invoke feelings of fear. In general people are afraid of change, because it means uncertainty. You and your teams may prefer the certainty for a poor process than making the change to a better one. Why do this at all? Your organisation, your technology and your customers will have changed since you first set-up your processes and work-flows. Maybe at that time you had to be very detailed with how things should be done. The problem is the more prescriptive the process was the less likely it is that things are still being done that way. You have intelligent capable people on your teams, they will have ideas on how to do their day-to-day tasks better. If there is a process problem they will know about it, even if senior managers don’t. Really the hardest part is deciding you’re going to make the improvements you know your teams need to be more productive. Admitting you have a problem is the most important step to fixing it. Actually making the changes are easy. Don’t believe me? Just break it down into the six steps of process improvement. They are: 1 - What are we doing? 2 - What have we got? 3 - What’s the plan? 4 - What do you think? 5 - What’s happening now? 6 - What could be better? All the stages have one thing in common - collaboration. You can’t impose a solution, you need input and agreement from all, or at least most of the stakeholders. Stage 1 - What are we doing? This isn’t ‘how do we make the changes’, we don’t even know what, if anything, needs to be changed. We’re talking to people doing the tasks to find out how things are actually being done now. It’s probably not the way you think. Stage 2 - What have we got? You already have tools for your teams. You’ve got tools for CRM, incident and defect tracking, development planning, internal communication, content management, payment processing, AML & KYC, etc. You probably don’t need new tools. You need a better way of using them, and perhaps use them more. Are there tools being used in one part of the business that could also be used elsewhere to improve their work-flows? Stage 3 - What’s the plan? This seems obvious, but you need to actually do it. You could start with an idealised work-flow. How would you set it up if you were starting from scratch? And not just tools, but team structure too. How are you going to use the tools and people you have to get as close to that ideal work-flow as possible? What team changes are possible? How will you deal with exceptional requests? Once you have the plan for the new work-flow, you need to plan to roll it out. Is this going to be done as a single big change, or as a series of incremental changes. There are advantages to both methods and which one is better depends on a number of factors. Stage 4 - What do you think? You need to take the plan to the stakeholders and get feedback, and really listen. Some of their objections will be ‘fear of change’ and some will be genuine problems. Determining one from the other is vital, and not always easy. Stage 5 - What’s happening now? Roll out time. How you do this will depend on how big the change is, what you’re changing and the people involved. Does the original plan for roll-out still work? Timing is an important consideration - I’d suggest not doing it at the busiest time of the year. Stage 6 - What could be better? Chances are something will need to be changed once you’ve rolled everything out and people have lived with it for a while. Changes are expected and should be made provided you don’t break the fundamental structure of the new process. The goal is to have a process that provides a guide to getting stuff done, not one that manages all the interactions between people and teams. You want to increase communication and de-silo your organisation, and your process should encourage this.

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