Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

Category: Community Foundations

Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

April 15, 2019 | 4:22 pm

Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?

With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.

These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?

What is Process Improvement?

The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.

A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.

Start at the End

I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.

Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.

The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.

Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.

Focus Delivers Process Improvement Results

As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.

When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.

Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.

Your Next Process Improvement Results Project

When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.

Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

Deliver on Promises When Investing in New Technology

January 30, 2019 | 2:19 pm

Finally, you have approval to bring on a brand-new, expensive system to help do the most important work! Your team has been talking about it for years. The organization has committed to achieving substantial benefits from the big investment—commitments including everything other than your firstborn.

The Critical Question

You take a deep breath and wonder how you will put the new system in place in a way that fulfills all those promises. Putting a new, expensive system is place is not something teams do every day. In addition, it requires significant incremental work. Therefore, many teams look outside the organization for a skilled technology consultant.

One of the first questions a consultant will ask is, What steps do you want to automate through this system? Answering this question is critical. It makes the difference between delivering on promises and living with regret for years to come.

Some organizations answer the automation question by explaining exactly how work is being done now. This involves talking through the steps that happen when work goes well. But even a smooth progression through the steps may entail shuffling multiple paper copies, handing items back and forth until they are correct, and fielding phone calls from customers wanting to know where something is. Is that really the process you want to automate?

Recently a foundation leader shared with me that her organization spent nearly $750,000 on a new online, interactive grants system implementation. Yet after the software was installed, the employees continued to follow the labor-intensive processes that they were accustomed to. For example, they still made three copies of every grant check. They handwrote donor requests and then entered them into the online portal. They mailed letters instead of using the online portal or email features. Because employees didn’t capitalize on the capabilities of the new system, the team received very little benefit from their big investment. And everyone talked about how the implementation was a disaster.

Most technology consultants will help you map out and automate how work gets done now. And most system manuals will show you which screens and fields to use. But will these steps help you decrease the time and work it takes to serve your clients?

An Approach to Deliver on Promises
Some organizations go about new system implementation differently. They redesign how they do work before a new system is installed using proven business process improvement business process improvement business process improvement. Then, when their technology consultant asks what work steps they want to automate, they can speak with knowledge and confidence.

For example, recently a chief financial officer utilized a process improvement specialist over one week to help the team redesign processes shared his outcomes. “We designed the best process for us. Then, we pushed the consultant and technology to work for us, rather than bending to what the vendor said we should do.” This leader said that between process redesign and making full use of the new tool, they recaptured about 1,500 hours of work time, which they reinvested into serving the community.

Would recapturing work time while delivering better and faster results be valuable to deliver on promises to leadership and the board?

Learn More
Check out this companion blog to learn more: Process Redesign—Before or After New Software Install?

Before your organization installs a new system, contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can get real value from your new system and processes. Learn how leveraging a process specialist for one week can help you deliver on your promises. Others have redesigned processes and installed new systems with game-changing results. You can too!

Community Foundations Flex Process Improvement Muscles to Achieve Substantial Results

February 25, 2019 | 4:33 pm

Community foundations across the nation are flexing their process improvement muscles. They are achieving impressive results, including:
• Recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of work hours
• Delivering better or faster grants or donor acknowledgements
• Maximizing a big technology investment
• Breaking down crippling silos across the organization
• Creating a culture of improvement

For example, Communities Foundation of Texas used process improvement training and coaching to transform a contributions process from 58 to 25 steps. They immediately started recapturing time, which enabled them to reinvest it in donor and grantee value-added services. They expect to recoup over one thousand hours from their investment.

Is this an anomaly? Actually, many community foundations report these impressive results. In fact, every community foundation we worked with significantly streamlined its processes. As shown in the graph below, these leaders reduced their number of steps by 52 percent. With each wasteful step removed, these foundations better positioned themselves to accomplish their central mission of increased impact.

The Secret: Building Process Improvement Muscles

Leaders and staff can learn how to achieve measurable results through our one-day Think Differently Process Improvement Workshop™. Designed specifically for community foundations, this workshop equips you and your community foundation colleagues by taking you through an intensive day of learning and practice. Attendees routinely say they take home improvement ideas they can implement immediately, particularly by addressing “pain points” that slow down their work processes. They often comment how process improvement opportunities will help them save time, deliver better service to donors and grantees, and create bigger impact in their community.

“Lee took what we thought would be a complex methodology and made it easy for us to apply. This approach worked great for us.” – Kirk Wong, Vice President Finance and Grant Operations, Marin Community Foundation

In 2019, community foundations will have two opportunities to learn these skills: May 2 in Dallas, Texas, and August 22 in Orlando, Florida. Learn more at: One-Day Think Differently Process Improvement Workshop. Or contact Lee Kuntz to get detailed registration information.

Over a thousand hours of work time are just waiting to be recaptured by your team so you can reinvest them in your community. Take the first step to learn more!

Public and Private Foundations Learn Tips to Create Capacity

November 13, 2018 | 2:32 pm

Recently about 100 public charities and private foundations gathered to learn how they can create capacity to drive their mission.  They heard from improvement champions how they can recapture thousands of work hours and deliver more and better results to their community. 

Hear what these public charities and private foundations learned. Quick Video


Process Improvement Speaker Lee Kuntz

This Year, Plan to Solve Pain Points and Thrive

October 12, 2018 | 1:14 am

Is your organization planning and budgeting for next year? Are you tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, such as overwhelming workloads, demands for better or faster results, or challenges to maximize costly technology? At the recent Twin Cities Nonprofit Financial Group meeting, I shared three steps to solve these pain points this year.

The Secret: Invest in Continuous Process Improvement
Organizations that help and serve others are recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of hours of capacity. They are serving their customers, community, board, funders, and donors in half the time. They are retaining employees.

Their secret? Investing in continuous process improvement to get big, immediate results with a small investment.

Recently we surveyed our client’s continuous process improvement results. Our customers achieved a 1.5- to 3-times return on their investment during the first year after implementation. This return came in the form of recaptured time and error-free results. These organizations continued to experience recaptured time and positive feedback from customers year after year.

Figure 1: Return on Continuous Process Improvement

Three critical approaches bring organizations big, immediate results with a small investment in continuous process improvement.
1. Get trained on proven tools
2. Get coaching to use the tools successfully
3. Maximize everything the organization has now

Because continuous process improvement teams maximize the tools and resources they have now, there is little additional investment. Also, the team achieves results fast when they choose their best and easiest to implement ideas. For example, one leader implemented the team’s improvement ideas the next day.

Invest in Building Process Improvement Muscle
Leaders are bringing the story of continuous process improvement to their organizations’ annual planning discussions. Yet a common question is: What does the initial investment consist of?

As shown in Figure 1, the initial investment in continuous process improvement includes two components: employee time and out of pocket costs for training and coaching. An employee will spend between 5 to 40 hours annually doing successful process improvement. The cost of the training and coaching depends upon the amount, level, and number of days needed. Contact me to learn more about training options.

Find Funding and Support
Civic, public, financial, and healthcare organizations fund their initial investment to kick off their continuous process improvement work in three ways.

Train to Retain. Some leaders include training in their annual budget so they can retain employees. A study conducted for Minnesota’s West Central Initiative found organizations that provide employees with training had a 50 percent lower turnover rate than those that did not. Read more at: West Central Initiative Study Summary. Budgeting for CPI training is a great way to begin your team’s continuous process improvement journey.

Use Discretionary Funds. Most organizations have some discretionary funds. One community action council identified enough money to in their discretionary budget to fund continuous process improvement training for 12 employees. Afterwards, the employees immediately implemented the improvement ideas they developed during the training.

Watch the Budget. Look for times when there is budget available. I get those calls about a month before the organization’s fiscal year-end. “I have some remaining budget to spend before the end of the year. Come now, Lee!”

Plan to Solve Pain Points in the Coming Year
When an organization and the staff are tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, it is time for continuous process improvement. Organizations have recaptured thousands of work hours while delivering better and faster results to their customers, their community, and their board. You can, too! Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can plan to solve pain points and thrive.

Training: The Secret to Continuous Process Improvement Success

August 27, 2018 | 4:13 pm

Have you done process improvement? Have you seen piles of paper or duplicate steps in the processes around you? Perhaps you have implemented some process improvement tweaks to improve how work is done.

Some organizations achieve big success through a specific approach to process improvement. They recapture hundreds—even thousands—of hours of time. These leaders deliver error-free results year after year. They have changed their culture into one characterized by ongoing improvement.

Their secret? These organizations engage in continuous process improvement (CPI). In my experience, CPI in sectors that serve and help means maximizing every aspect of the organization’s operations. One community foundation used CPI to recapture more than 4,000 work hours. Another now delivers grants twice a week rather than once a week. Would your organization like to achieve those kinds of results? What does it take to move from making small tweaks through process improvement to achieving comprehensive results through continuous process improvement?

The Three Reasons for CPI Training

Organizations achieving impressive CPI results do so by insourcing their continuous improvement efforts. One key is to invest in training in CPI tools. This training is critical for three reasons.

Ongoing Improvement

First, continuous process improvement is ongoing. Relying on outside consultants to identify ways to improve the team’s work is cost prohibitive. Also, many times employees don’t agree with the recommended changes and thus fail to implement the outsiders’ ideas. To increase the likelihood of buy-in, employees need to be the ones identifying process improvement opportunities.

Building employee CPI skills, their process muscle, equips an organization to successfully improve process and results continuously.

For example, one community foundation trains every employee in the CPI skills needed to do their job. This training brought the language and culture of CPI to the entire foundation. Now employees see and talk about value added and non-value-added work. Said their CFO about her organization’s CPI program, “It’s part of our day-to-day culture.”

Advanced Skills

A second reason building CPI skills is beneficial for those working in the help-and-serve sector is that CPI is more comprehensive than informal process improvement. Some of the more advanced CPI tools include performing a waste assessment, conducting root cause analysis, and triggering human change management.

Employees in our sector are specialists in their assigned tasks. They work with public or civic programs to achieve success. They understand workflows. They effectively utilize very detailed systems. Through CPI, employees can gain access to a whole new set of tools that will enhance their performance and produce better results for their organization. Employee training is essential in order for the CPI tools to be used effectively.

The good news is that these tools are completely learnable. With coaching, employees can understand how to apply the principles of CPI in many different situations. One community foundation leader said, “Lee, you took what I thought was going to be a stringent, complex methodology and made it easy to understand and feasible to apply to our organization. Everyone participated and was thoroughly engaged in the process improvement training.”

Employee Readiness

A third reason CPI training is critical for organizational efficiency is that it brings a fresh perspective about how to approach work. Most employees have engaged in other approaches to process improvement, and they bring those notions, opinions, and experiences to CPI. For example, do you have people in your organization who have they done work the same way for ten years? Have you had the same improvement conversations again and again with no measurable improvement in how work is done?

In order to be successful in CPI, employees must be willing to think differently about how to get work done and be open to learning dramatically different ways of accomplishing their goals.

We all are at different readiness levels to accept change. At any point in time, we can be ready (green) or not ready (red) for change. CPI training helps people move from not ready (red) to more ready (yellow), and then to fully ready (green).

CPI training helps employees take that readiness journey. I see many CPI training attendees come in with their arms folded, fully prepared to resist the encouragement to change. CPI training makes it safe for employees to speak up about what they see when they do work. By the end of the training, even resistant attendees relax and understand that CPI is about process, not people. This acceptance and the related engagement are fundamental to successful CPI results, and both are a regular outcome of our process improvement training. Recently an executive vice president in our industry said of the CPI training and coaching: “We needed to create capacity and we did. Yet we achieved so much more. Now we have a culture of ongoing improvement.”


Organizations that help and serve others can leverage CPI to recapture thousands of hours of time, become error-free year after year, and deliver better and faster results to their community and customers. You can do the same through CPI training. Learn more about CPI training and check out our new Training Real Time video here:

Contact Lee Kuntz to learn more about how organizations that serve and help are curing pain points and achieving impressive results

Video: Learn How to Build Your Team’s Continuous Process Improvement Muscle

July 10, 2018 | 2:14 pm

Discover the tools service and business leaders adopt to manage and improve their processes and achieve greater success.  Watch video >>

What Is Process Improvement?

May 30, 2018 | 7:53 pm

Susan sat in an operations meeting, listening to the discussion of this week’s customer complaints. This time a customer complained that he did not see his request in the online portal as expected. Last time it was about a missing transaction confirmation.

The subject line of the meeting invite was “Process Improvement.” However, Susan wondered: What is process improvement? And what does it have to do with addressing customer complaints?

What Is a Process?

To understand process improvement and what it can achieve, first we need to understand the basics.

A process is a series of work steps done to achieve a specific outcome. For example, each morning you strive to make your favorite cup of coffee. You have steps you do every day to create that tasty cup. These steps may be:
1. Measure water.
2. Pour water into coffee maker.
3. Turn on coffee maker.
4. Set brew time.
5. Place coffee cup under coffee maker spout.
6. Insert the coffee pod into the maker.
7. When coffee maker sounds, remove your cup.
8. Add just the right amount of the right creamer.

Outcome: Your favorite cup of coffee.

Whether it is making that favorite cup of coffee, creating requests in the online portal, or delivering transaction confirmations, the process consists of the steps taken to perform the work and the outcomes they produce.

What Is Process Improvement?

Process improvement is changing the steps of a process to improve the outcome. For example, back to that cup of coffee. Have you had a cup of coffee at a restaurant that was better than yours?

You may go home and try a different approach to get that better cup of coffee: adjust the brew time, use colder water, or use less water. You keep adjusting various steps until you get the desired results. Tweaking the coffee-making process in order to get a better outcome is process improvement.

Returning to Susan’ situation, the “Process Improvement” meeting is an opportunity for the team to improve how work is done to eliminate customer complaints.

What are the best process improvement steps to achieve the results you need? Check out my companion blog to learn about approaches that improve outcomes. 4 Process Improvement Approaches: Which One Works Best?

In summary, what is process improvement? When done well, it solves pain points seen at work each day. Process improvement can eliminate customer complaints, create capacity, solve thorny issues, and create a return on a major investment in a new system. When done well, process improvement changes how work is done and can help you achieve the results you need.

When you need to change outcomes of your processes for your complex service organization, contact me. We can talk through the outcome you need and how process improvement can get you there. Others have successfully redesigned their processes to improve outcomes. You can too.


Four Ways to Improve Community Foundation Processes and Impact

May 14, 2018 | 8:32 pm

Philanthropic organizations, including community and private foundations, are working hard to increase their impact in their community. As resources are tight, some foundations use process improvement to recapture and reinvest their time. Others use process improvement to deliver more, better or faster in their community.

Most foundation employees have done process improvement. Perhaps you have questioned if and how work should be done. Perhaps you have been part of a team that changed grantmaking steps.

Yet did the changes make a big impact? Did they save time or deliver to grantees faster? Did the changes get done on time? Or did discussions go on and on without implementation?

These results happen often. ProSci, the national change management researcher, surveyed 150 process improvement projects. They found the majority of process improvement projects failed. These projects failed to get the expected results or failed to complete on time or at all.

Only the minority of surveyed process improvement projects succeeded. These successful projects used proven process improvement steps to get the results they needed on time and on budget. You can too.

Process improvement proven at community and private foundations

Process improvement success starts with understanding some core process improvement concepts:

The first concept is that we each use steps to get work done. For example, most people have steps to get that first great cup of coffee in the morning. Perhaps the first step is getting the ground coffee beans out of the cupboard. Then putting them into the coffee maker and so forth.

Whether it is a great cup of coffee or any other desired outcome, the logic is the same. We take steps to get desired outcomes.

Concept 1: Work has steps to accomplish a needed outcome. These steps are a process.

Steps 1 + Step 2 + Step 3 = Outcome

Every foundation has processes. And each process has steps to accomplish an outcome. Here is a simplified foundation grants process:

Approve grant + Enter + Issue check  = Accurate, timely grant payment

Concept 2: The steps of a process determine the outcome.

Is that first cup of coffee dependent on the steps you took to make it happen? The type and amount of coffee used? The brewing time? What is added? We get to be experts at good coffee by taking the steps to achieve the outcome we need.

The same concept is true with community foundation processes. The steps of work determine how fast, accurate, complete that work is done. That relationship between the steps (your processes) and your outcomes is important. Dr. Edward Deming, the father of quality systems, thought about processes as systems to do work. Dr. Deming said: “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”

Concept 3: Improve the process to improve the outcome.

Sometimes we want to get a different outcome or results. Perhaps stronger coffee for Monday morning. To get that different outcome on Monday, we change the steps or the process we do to get the coffee. Perhaps different beans, longer brewing time or less creamer. We change or improve the coffeemaking process to get a different or better outcome.

The same is true with foundation outcomes. Perhaps the foundation needs to recapture and reposition time to serve donors or the community. Or the foundation needs to create completely error free results. Or get gifts or grants recorded in real-time. Improving the foundation’s processes can help the foundation achieve all of these improved outcomes.

Concept 4: Use process improvement proven in your industry.

Process improvement has been around for over 50 years. Yet process improvement is not a one size fits all. The concepts that work in making coffee, manufacturing or even for public companies may not help improve community foundations processes.

Foundation process improvement focuses on getting the results foundations need with the approach and tools that work in that industry. For example, foundation process improvement includes improving the steps, tools and business rules of foundation processes. Including all 3 of these elements increases the impact the team can achieve.

Successful foundation process improvement achieves impressive outcomes

With these 4 key elements in mind, what does foundation process improvement help achieve? In my work with community foundations, here are the results foundations have achieved through proven process improvement:
• Recaptured over 4,000 work hours.
• Error free for 3 years.
• Existing technology is fully implemented.
• Deliver to customers in half the time.

Are any of these outcomes interesting to your foundation? Then check out the companion blog article here: 3 Keys to Avoid Process Improvement Project Failure.

Whether it’s having that great cup of coffee you look forward to each morning, or improving your foundation’s impact, having the right processes in place achieves the desired outcome. And when your team has the right process improvement resources and skills, you can achieve great outcomes.

Lee Kuntz is an expert at helping foundation teams build their process muscle and successfully improve process and outcomes. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee to learn more.

My Continuous Improvement Job Is On The Line!

May 14, 2018 | 8:12 pm

Dear Lee,
I am constantly beating my head against a brick wall! Our continuous improvement team delivers training, leaders listen, shaking their heads yes, and leave excited. When they go apply what they learned, they can’t seem to connect the dots – like we’re speaking a language they don’t understand. Perhaps Martian gibberish…

They contact us when the wheels fall off rather than for help with proactive improvement. This is NOT what I signed up for. I thought I was going to make a difference. But now it appears my job is on the line! HELP!

Hopeless in Boulder, CO

Dear Hopeless:
Gosh, sounds like you’re walking on a tight rope 50 feet in the air at a circus.

This is where continuous improvement leaders land when they aren’t receiving the needed support.

It’s time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your continuous improvement program.
First question to assess your program: Do you have documented results that continuous improvement has generated? Hours saved? Errors decreased? Customers served faster?

Evidence Gets Support.
We teach our teams to outline results before and after the continuous improvement project. We have a template I can share with you.

Asking and answering key questions will help identify your program’s opportunities.
This approach generates a customized program to gain the support and turn your team into heroes.

There is hope. We have helped many continuous improvement leaders off the tight rope. They have successfully gained support and do the work they deserve. You can achieve this success too.


P.S. Contact me for the template and to talk through your challenges.

Contact Lee today to discuss your challenge.