Who wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of improving their processes? Process improvement can save you time and money. It can help you scale your efforts. Allow for stronger teamwork and collaboration. It just makes work better and more enjoyable for everyone involved. However, while every team wants better processes, not every team realizes how challenging the journey to getting there can be.
“Process improvement is much more difficult than it may sound. If it’s not executed correctly the first time you will lose the confidence and ultimately the buy-in of the team,” says Amanda A. Russo, the founder and CEO of Cornerstone Paradigm Consulting, LLC, a global business operations consulting firm.
Ready to take on the challenge and come out stronger on the other side? Preparation is key. Here are six process improvement principles every team should embrace, according to Russo.
1. Invest lots of effort in preparation
First things first, you need to invest a lot of work upfront to reap benefits later on. The first phase of any process improvement endeavor should be assessing the current state of affairs. Skipping over this step will only set you back later, so take your time and do your research.
“You absolutely must do all of the upfront work prior to ever designing a roadmap for change. That means collecting all the data, mapping out your current state, understanding your technology, and really getting to the root cause of the business’s issues; this exercise takes a lot of time,” says Russo.
2. Never assume anything
On that note, it’s important to put aside any preconceived notions you may have about the process and what needs to change. “Never assume you know anything, not the problem and not the solution. This is really challenging when you are internal and so close to the day-to-day,” she adds. According to her, you must put aside your own bias if you decide to conduct the project yourself.
“That means not assuming you know what is wrong, deciding on solutions, prematurely choosing technology, or believing a person or people are to blame for the gap/issue(s).”
3. Be open to being wrong
When leading an initiative, it can be hard to be wrong. If you take pride in your work, you want to do a good job and be right about your input. But it’s paramount to be open to being wrong when striving to improve your processes. This means being aware that you will inevitably have blind spots, and striving to uncover them.
“Throughout my career, I can’t tell you how many business leaders truly believe they know everything about their organization there is to know until we get in there and uncover all that is going on,” says Russo.
4. Understand that change is difficult
Also, every team and leader should remember that change is difficult even if you really want it. Yes, that new process is going to be fabulous once implemented. But change is rocky and change management will be needed.
“The process of getting to a future state that you desire will be an adjustment,” adds Russo. And if you anticipate the fact that it’s going to be an adjustment instead of wearing rose-colored glasses, you’ll be able to support your team through the growing pains.
5. Include the right people
According to Russo, you should include everyone in your process improvement plans. Yes, even people you don’t think are relevant. Why? Two reasons: Getting buy-in later when you need people to adopt the new processes, and gathering insights so you can have a more complete picture of what is actually going on.
“Yes, you will need to include everyone in this process if you want them to buy into what possibilities may result in the desired outcome. You’re going to need to listen and consider the opinions of everyone, even the people you personally feel have little to no say in the matter.”
It’s also important to task the right people with leading the process-improvement project. Optimizing operations requires skills such as project management, and not everyone will be cut out for leading the change.
6. Get to the root of the problem first
Finally, a key principle for improving processes of any kind is that you should always get to the root of the problem before jumping the gun with solutions – especially tech solutions.
“Technology salespeople are there to sell you a solution, their solution,” says Russo. “That’s not to say they are intentionally trying to steer you in the wrong direction, but you must remember they are there to sell you their solution. It can become a bit of tunnel vision.”
Unless you are clear about the problem you are trying to solve, you’ll end up resorting to solutions you don’t actually need while leaving key issues on the table. So target the right audience, identify the root problem and make sure you identify your process issues first.