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.