I recently spoke to Doug Troy, who is the VP of Operations for Illuminate360 LLC which provides a turnkey predictive analytics solution for companies looking to gain insights from their data without the capital expense of other Big Data solutions. As VP of operations he oversees all pre-sales activity including sales support, solutions development and delivery operations providing clients a seamless implementation experience.
In the following brief interview, Troy talks about the importance of process improvement to his business, how he approaches it, his biggest challenges and more.
Dan Schawbel: How would you define process improvement, and its importance to your business?
Doug Troy: For me, process improvement is any activity that attempts to save time, reduce workload and positively affect the profit equation by either reducing operating expense or increasing revenue. This is of great importance in our business because as a rapidly growing firm we need to be able to adapt to changing market conditions as well as protect ourselves from the bloat that often plagues growing companies.
There is an evil temptation to do something that is inefficient in the name of speed and ease in growing firms. This then becomes part of the SOP [standard operating procedure] by habit and accident. Taking a little time for process improvement now prevents you from wasting a lot of time in the near future.
Schawbel: How do you approach process improvement within your organization?
Troy: Process improvement is about setting up both a culture and an environment that are conducive to improvement in general. They may seem like two halves of the same coin but there are differences that are important. The environment is the precursor to the culture, having an informal low stress working environment prompts creativity which is the backbone of improvement and innovation. If leadership is too strict or stuffy then people won’t feel free to express ideas. I find that humor and that ability of leadership to poke fun at itself helps a lot. Culture then emerges from this environment but be careful, it can get stale if you don’t continuously reinforce the environment.
Schawbel: What are the biggest challenges you have from a tools / systems perspective to support process improvement?
Troy: The biggest challenge from a tools perspective has always been usability and collaboration. For any tool to be successful it needs to easily fit into the workflow and help people communicate and collaborate seamlessly. Many tools are designed to help by defining a particular process or workflow but lack the adaptability to be used with all methodologies but more importantly lack the ability to be configured for modified methodologies that are in place for a particular industry or business domain. Whenever a tool tries to force a change in how people work it will lose adoption and requires additional training and education to combat the entropy that naturally ensues.
Schawbel: How do you allocate resources / personnel to support process improvement?
Troy: I require my people to set aside time each week to think about what slows them down, hinders their progress or is just a plain old fashioned pain in the [you know what]. Once they have come up with a problem we will prioritize it based on the impact it has systemically.
Once we have selected an improvement initiative we follow the Five I’s of process improvement. I pulled this together from my experiences with many different forms of CI and PM methodologies. If you follow these steps they will help you avoid some common missteps people make during an improvement project.
Schawbel: What strategies have you found most valuable to overcome those challenges?
Troy: Communication and visible leadership are the best ways to overcome these challenges. If your team sees you put down your smart phone, walk out of your office and engage them in discussions around current constraints or even better, recent failures, then you will get them to buy in and start to put themselves into the process of process improvement.