Is Process Improvement Primarily About Doing Improvement Projects?
A reader asked:
There are lots of checklists available to remind you to do things like make sure the problem is important to the organization, creates value for customers in some way, is well defined, not too big, and to verify data is available, etc.
However, notice a hidden assumption: Is process improvement primarily about doing projects? Some of these checklists even go so far as to state that you should make sure the project can be completed on time and in budget.
This needs to be challenged. Unless you demonstrate otherwise, a project mentality can make process improvement very difficult.
- For one thing, with all the emphasis is on “the project” and not on how management currently functions, what is the likely hood that any changes will be sustained?
- For another thing, this focus penalizes situations where projects have to be dumped, yet these are sources of plenty of learning (especially when it comes to increasing customer value as opposed to reducing waste)
- Finally, there is often plenty of opportunity for people within a functional department to improve their execution. Shouldn’t this be front and center in improvement initiatives?
Improvement requires people in the company to learn. The REAL value is in SUSTAINING improvements over time, not in short term gains (i.e., a project focus). The best approach comes from deep within the organization: a wise leader leads the way in creating improvement by doing it themselves – following a specific method – and demands others do the same. In this way they leverage the explicit structure of process thinking to develop the ability of people within the functional departments to solve problems and improve.
Process excellence leaders have excellent opportunities to develop these leadership skills – if they also have functional managers motivated to ask for their help.
So, be careful to keep the primary responsibility where it belongs when you position your improvement efforts.
I’d be curious to learn how you see this?