Is your office in remote mode? So many teams are now working from home as we collectively battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work can reduce personal and community health risk. Yet it can be unhealthy for your organization. Remote work can be slower and less accurate, impacting your organization and your community. A key question in this transition is: With this big change of unknown duration, how will your team continue to serve your community in a seamless way?
Teams that move to remote work find key risks.
o Paper piles of work are no longer visible, resulting in stalled or forgotten work.
o In-person double checks and communication may not happen, resulting in errors and embarrassment.
o Quickly made process adjustments to fit remote operations create the risk of errors and missed steps.
o Back-and-forth online communications may slow work down, consuming already tight capacity.
Remote work is an opportunity to redesign your processes to regain capacity, maintain quality, keep up speed, and preserve your reputation. Some organizations are using proven process transformation tools to achieve these goals. For example, as a result of our process transformation work, one foundation recaptured time while delivering error-free results for three years. This group became an effective cross-organization team, performing better and accomplishing more in a consistently high-quality manner.
Is this what you are looking for?
If your team is going remote, connect with process improvement coach Lee Kuntz about a live, online checkup for your key processes. We use our proven process transformation coaching, training, and tools to help you mitigate risk and deliver upon your organization’s commitments. Checking up on small processes can be done in a couple hours.
Contact Lee to discuss how your team can create a seamless transition to remote processes while maintaining and growing great results.
Have you improved your work process, tweaking how work is done or fixing broken steps? Most agree process improvement is good. Yet many staff members are too busy fighting fires to think about how to do their work. They get stuck in the rut of doing things as they’ve always been done. The answer to this miserable dilemma? Moving from the small tweaks associated with traditional process improvement to radical process transformation.
A starting point in thinking about process improvement is understanding what the term even means. In a recent online search, I found ten different definitions for ‘process improvement.’ Many people see process improvement as adding, deleting, or modifying work steps to change how work is done.
The problem with this commonly held definition is that the focus is on tweaks to change to work steps rather than improving outcomes. For example, suppose I want to move from balancing between sources with an adding machine to using an Excel spreadsheet. This improvement seems like a positive change. When I pitch this to my boss, I focus on how the process will change. My boss asks how much time the change will take to implement. That use of resources gives her pause, as she knows our big workload. Most likely, she will say we don’t have time to make changes right now. We need to stay the course and take on the next emergency. We can do the improvement later, when things get better.
Since I did not identify the positive impact of my proposed enhancement, my boss didn’t see its value compared to the other big priorities crashing through her door. Too often, defining process improvement as tweaking how work is done causes this important tool to be ignored.
Process improvement can truly produce more favorable outcomes than had been realized before. Without it, employees can become locked in a vicious cycle in which underlying process flaws are not corrected. As in the example below of an improperly prepared check, both customers and staff can become frustrated by processes that don’t work as they should.
If the cycle consists of complaint-pull-fix without also investing time in fixing the issue for all customers, similar problems are likely to occur in the future. That means staff will work longer and longer hours responding to emergencies, getting further and further away from the good work they want to do. Eventually staff may burn out and leave, placing a greater burden on remaining employees to do the work.
I have experienced this vicious cycle in my own life. Early in my career, I accepted a job in an area that claimed to promote great work-life balance. My superiors promised there would be overtime only at year-end. Once I was there, I found that by overtime, they meant seven days a week for six weeks! I barely saw my young children for a month and a half. When I commented about the excessive overtime, the staff said it was always that way, and to just “suck it up” because it would not change. I questioned the culture and the paradigm, and I wondered if things would ever get better. That unpleasant situation has inspired me for the rest of my career.
To correct agonizing situations such as the one I survived, I rename, rephrase, and reposition process improvement in my training by sharing the story of process transformation.
Process transformation is the use of proven process improvement tools to maximize what the organization has now to achieve an improved outcome.
Process transformation solves pain points organizations experience so they can work toward efficient, effective, and high-quality outcomes for their customers. Organizations have achieved the following outcomes from this approach.
There are three important points in this definition of process transformation.
1. Proven tools. A recent survey by change management specialist Prosci indicated that the majority of process improvement projects fail, primarily due to lack of proven tools, experience, and support. The good news is that there are tools and training that offset this risk. The key is to leverage the tools and training that work with your industry and situation. For example, quality management tools require rigorous training on statistical analysis and are great for manufacturing organizations. However, statistical analysis principles have little use in a service organization. A better tool for a philanthropic or charitable organization would be one that helps employees identify wasted steps.
2. Maximize what the organization has now. Employers manage more than work steps or process to achieve the outcomes they need. They leverage business policies, roles and responsibilities, technology, work steps, and other elements to create desired outcomes. Some of these components are helpful and efficient, while others end up undercutting objectives. For example, the policy of a foundation I am coaching might require that grants be paid within two weeks after being approved. If the competition can pay a grant within three days, I ask my client to identify and maximize everything they have now to achieve faster turnaround.
3. Improved outcomes. To ensure that the desired results are achieved, process transformation identifies the needed outcomes before the improvement work begins. To illustrate, a team may decide they need to recapture and reinvest half the time they are now spending to issue grants. This may amount to one hour per grant, for a total of 500 to 1,500 work hours. Once leaders understand the payback from their investment in process transformation, they support the investment. Learn more about this concept in my companion blog post: Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End.
Process transformation requires an investment of both time and resources to be successful. When leaders and staff members learn about tools that will help them work smarter rather than harder, they find that their investment pays off. The graph below shows immediate results achieved when process transformation tools were used in four recent projects:
We have been coaching and training teams in process improvement and transformation for more than two decades. A recent study of our clients indicated that their returns overwhelmingly offset their investment. Typically, we have found that the first year’s results more than cover the costs of the training and staff time investment, with future years’ savings being “gravy.” Imagine sharing with your organization’s leadership or board that your team can take on more without additional staff because the team has recaptured and repositioned 1,000 to 2,000 work hours.
Now back to my story. After being told to “suck it up,” I was determined I would never again work that much overtime. Therefore, I sought and gained leadership approval to conduct a process transformation project. I committed to leadership that I would shorten the year-end work time for everyone. To do so, I partnered with my team using proven improvement/transformation tools to maximize everything we already had. As a result, we cut the steps to complete our year-end reporting in half. In the next year-end cycle, the team worked only one weekend rather than the six weekends we had with the old process.
If your team works overwhelming hours, reacts to constant emergencies, or is not maximizing expensive software, process transformation may be the answer to your problems. With an initial investment, your team can solve its pain points, recapture time, and deliver better and faster outcomes to your customers.
Learn more by leveraging our free website assessment tools to diagnose your pain point, or contact Lee Kuntz to talk about your needs. Organizations have found hundreds—even thousands—of work hours to reinvest in serving their customers. You can, too
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
So I really do appreciate you training my team this year. We did indeed achieve success from the overwhelming work we faced. The embarrassing operation errors are gone. Clients and leadership love us. This process improvement training transformed our business and culture.
Did I mention, we work very little overtime?
That’s my biggest problem right now!
With the holidays coming up, I think about how I’ve avoided my mother-in-law’s holiday dinners for years by claiming overtime. She serves headcheese, kishke, and pig snoots to name a few. These, well, SCARE ME. I may have to face my fears this year. Or maybe you could pull one more nugget out of your bag so I can avoid this event?
Hiding Out in the East
Let me check my bag – no, no advice on mother-in-laws. But heritage food – yes. I’ve had the privilege of sampling all these and agree with you. Luckily you do have time to figure out how you will handle this moment. The good news – overtime doesn’t have to be part of your plan. Good Luck!
Simply stated, process improvement is a change in work steps to improve outcomes. Through process improvement training you too can overcome overwhelming workloads, eliminate errors, and improve relationships with clients and leadership. Contact Lee Kuntz at 651-330-7076 to talk about what this might look like for your team.
Service organizations work hard to solve their pain points. Many look to deliver more to customers, save time and get employees home at night. Process improvement is a change in work steps to improve outcomes and is a tool that can be used to accomplish all of this. There are several approaches to process improvement.
Which Process Improvement Approach Should Your Team Use to Achieve Success?
To answer this question, we surveyed leaders of complex service organizations including: community foundations, nonprofits, government, financial and mortgage organizations. We found leaders generally use four different types of process improvement:
• Experience based
• Technology driven
Informal Process Improvement: This see and adjust approach is used to solve clearly seen pain points which have clear solutions. Organizations use what they already know and understand about the pain. They pick a solution and implement it to plug holes or gaps quickly.
Example: Alex would really like to get home from work before his children are in bed. He takes a closer look at what happens on the days he stayed late. He finds his late nights are the same days that customer checks were not entered into the system accurately. With that in mind, Alex improves his check entry process by balancing as soon as he is done entering checks. Alex uses logic and his knowledge of what is happening now to improve the process. Now, Alex gets home in time to read book after book to his children before they go to bed.
Experience Based Process Improvement: Over time and experience, employees develop best practices that work well. The employee understands the best practice and has seen the results it achieves. The implementation of a best practice experienced by an employee is a good form of process improvement.
Example: Susan is thrilled to start a new job within operations at a mortgage organization. She quickly notices they do things differently than where she came from. Now, it is hard to track where mortgage files are in the process. Under tight pressure to close mortgages quickly, Susan sees the team wasting valuable time looking for files. Based on her past experience, she knows if files are accessible and seen by the entire team, this time will not be wasted. After Susan introduces the idea, explains the value and how it works, the team decides to implement the idea. Now the mortgage operation flows smoother and originators are heroes to their clients. Susan used her experience in past processes to bring improvements to her colleagues.
Technology Driven Process Improvement: Technology tools are critical to complex service organizations. These tools can help innovate and drive faster, more consistent outcomes. This potential payback can influence these organizations to use complex expensive technology.
Installing new technology is only one step towards achieving innovation and delivering faster, more consistent outcomes to clients. The other critical step is redesigning processes to maximize the new technology. Redesigning process and implementing technology go hand in hand to achieve the needed results and return on an investment in technology.
Example 1: Warren County installs a new fee billing system. The county’s technology director, Jean, sponsors a meeting with directors and finance to train them on what the new billing system can do. With that knowledge, the team maps out the new work process to leverage what the new system offers. The team also identifies that the new billing must get bills out within 5 days. Based on the team’s 5-day need, the technology and processes are adjusted until the team achieves the 5-day results.
Example 2: Chang must assign volunteers within one day for Renew, a nonprofit organization. Right now, he needs to look up each volunteer’s availability in the system to find the right resource. Due to this time-consuming step, Chang rarely meets that one day goal. He talks with his technology partner, requesting a better way to see volunteer availability. IT talks with Chang, mapping out the current volunteer assignment work flow. IT also asks questions to identify what Chang needs to accomplish. IT builds a report that Chang now runs every day that lists volunteers’ availability. Using the report, Chang now assigns volunteers by noon and spends the rest of his day in the community helping clients.
In both examples, process mapping was used to help the team. Identifying required outcomes is another process improvement tool that they utilized. The employees in both examples only achieved the needed results by applying both technology change and process improvement.
Transformational Process Improvement: There are times when leaders need to significantly improve results. They need big gains like recapturing half their operations time or eliminating errors. These leaders use more advanced process improvement tools. This includes tools like traditional mapping, select Lean service operations, quality management and change management tools.
The need to use a selection of proven tools comes from evidence. ProSci, a nationally respected change management organization, conducted a survey of 150 process improvement projects. Over half of these projects “failed to be completed or did not achieve bottom-line results.” They found that the key success factors were proven tools, compelling results, accountability, support, involvement and cultural transformation.
These key success factors are foundational in transformational process improvement.
Example: A large community foundation has a big problem. A donor, who is also a board member at this foundation, shared that other organizations pay out his grants in 5 days. They are operating 10 days faster than this foundation. Leaders from this foundation heard the message and know they need big transformation to cut their time by two thirds. The CFO learns about transformational process improvement – advanced process improvement. The CFO gains support to train employees in advanced process improvement tools. They leverage an advanced process improvement coach in a four-day rapid improvement event to help employees see their opportunities, allowing them to transform their grantmaking processes. Utilizing their skills, the team independently implements the new and dramatically improved grantmaking process. Ninety days after implementation, this foundation team checks their results and celebrates. They now get grant checks out in 4-5 days rather than 15.
The bottom line: transformational process improvement leverages advanced tools delivering advanced results.
The Bottom Line
So how does a leader know which process improvement approach to use to be successful?
The answer: It is all about the results the leader needs. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk through your needs and to identify the approach that can work for you.
Summary: Leaders of complex service organizations can select the right process improvement approach for their organization by first looking at what they need to achieve and how important it is to get those results. Then, pick the process improvement approach that matches those needs.
At Innovation Process Design we are experts at helping teams successfully improve process and results. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about what you’re experiencing and how leaders have solved this pain.
Community foundation leaders say they were happy with the process improvement report generated by their accountant or consultant. At the same time, these leaders were frustrated because they could not get support to implement the outsider’s ideas. They paid thousands of dollars for the report and have almost zero return on their investment (ROI). Their credibility is on the line. Can you relate?
Process improvement is the change in employees’ work steps to improve outcomes. Even with the best consultant, employees may not fully understand and support the consultant’s process recommendations. After all, who knows your processes best? Your employees!
When employees don’t fully support an outsider’s recommendations, they may not fully engage in implementing and owning the improvement ideas. Without engagement and ownership, the report’s improvement ideas don’t get implemented. Without implementation, the foundation achieves zero or negative ROI in the improvement report.
When the foundation invests in building employee process skill through improvement training and coaching, they achieve better results. By harnessing the power of their employees and amplifying their process skills- employees get in the improvement game.
Newly skilled and coached employees create better improvement ideas – those that actually work with your foundation’s complexities. Employees fully implement their own, well thought out, improvement ideas. They go the extra mile to make their own ideas work. And they keep those improvements in place. These employees see and enhance processes with their new skills right when they see the process train starting to come off the tracks.
Lee Kuntz shares “Foundations say that when they invest in building employee process muscle, they achieve employee support to improve and ongoing implementation and process ownership. This is exactly where the foundation’s ROI comes from.”
Evidence supports the investment in employees as process improvement and process management resources. Foundations achieved these impressive results by building skills through process improvement training and coaching.
Case Study: Learn how a chief financial officer at a large community foundation invested in process improvement training to recapture over 60% of the team’s time and now delivers to donors faster.
They achieved superior results from this investment. You can too. Contact Lee Kuntz with the pain points you see.