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5 Ways to Foster Continuous Process Improvement in Your Team

Fostering Continuous Process Improvement

The BPM support model in which a small number of people in a central unit do all of the process improvement work must ultimately fail; there is no way for it to survive its own success.

Although it is very useful to have a central support group (an Office of BPM), it won’t, by itself, ensure widespread and continuous improving of processes. Success for a central group that starts out doing all of the improvement work will mean many requests for support from across the organization. Whatever the size of the central group, there will come a time when process improvement projects are on hold waiting for available resources. At this point the central process group is now the bottleneck preventing the improving of your processes! Dependence on a central group just doesn’t scale.

Process analysis and improvement should be everybody’s job.

In the Toyota Motor Corporation manufacturing plants in Japan, staff submit some 600,000 improvement suggestions each year. Even more remarkable is the fact that 98% of these are implemented. This is approximately one realized improvement per month per employee. Everyone working at those factories knows that process improvement is part of their role and they rise to the challenge.

How can we make this happen in our organizations?

Staff need to know five things: it is important, it’s worthwhile, they are empowered to make change, their efforts will be respected and the suggestion process is simple.

  1. Important. There needs to be a clear and shared understanding that continuous process improvement has a positive impact on the performance of the organization and that this, in turn, is positive for staff. Action: publish the success stories and maintain a continuous narrative demonstrating the positive consequences of improving your processes
  2. Worthwhile. Each staff member needs to believe that it is worthwhile to submit ideas for change. They need to be certain that suggestions will be carefully considered and appropriate action will be taken. They need to know that they can make a difference. Action: publish the statistics about suggestions received and acted on offering continuous proof that participation is meaningful.
  3. Empowered. In the Toyota example mentioned above, there are some 50,000 suggestions a month. There, as in our own organizations, the power to consider, approve and implement change must be widely distributed – again, a centralized control model will not survive success and an initial peak of enthusiasm will inevitably lead to apathy. Staff also need to have the tools and knowledge to be able to make effective process change. Action: push approval of process change as far down into the organization as possible, and make sure all staff have appropriate training and support.
  4. Respected. Staff, and their suggestions, must be respected. The ethos needs to be that there are no ‘silly suggestions’ and that it is safe to put forward your ideas. Staff need to be sure that their efforts will be respected wherever they are on the organizational hierarchy. Action: Make sure that every idea receives a response from a human being who has actually read and thought about the suggestion. (Again, this activity needs to be decentralized to avoid bottlenecks.)
  5. Simple. The suggestion submission and resolution process needs to be clear and simple. If we want staff to do a lot of this, we must make it as easy as possible. Perhaps this process needs to be the most efficient of all. Action: Relentlessly streamline the processes involved in identifying and effecting process change throughout the organization.

A small central group (or even a larger group) of process specialists cannot successfully do all the work. Improving processes part of everyone’s job. Create an environment where noticing ways to improve processes is a common part of each day’s activities, and continuous process improvement will be effective and sustained.

Download the 7 Enablers of BPM paper  to read about enabling Process Aware Culture

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