Process improvement, that is, taking your business’ current procedures and making them more efficient than before, is essential to the growth of your business, as well as your department. Without process improvement, you could be stuck in an endless cycle of putting out fires, rather than actually innovating.
It’s your job to make the work cycle of your team more effective and rewarding than ever. But where do you find the best places to improve processes and make your department a model of efficiency?
Go to your team. Go directly to your team
Your team usually has their own wish list of improvements, as well as obstacles. Tap them as the first place to start looking for process improvements.
There's no substitute for the kind of personal experience the people at the ground level are managing day to day. Get their buy-in by asking what their greatest challenges are, and set about finding a solution they can align with eagerly.
Are they having trouble getting or gathering information? Is a part of their process failing repeatedly? Are they experiencing regular equipment or resource issues? What about internal or persistent personal conflict?
Going straight to the team is one of the easiest ways to get the future buy-in—but be careful here. Although it's tempting to promise dramatic changes and improvements, make sure you're going to back up every claim with results, or you'll quickly sour the buy-in and develop a reputation for all talk and no walk.
Determine what’s occupying the greatest amount of time
Have a close look at your team’s daily, weekly, and monthly expenditures of time. The bigger the block of time, the more scrutiny it deserves. But be warned: This should be handled with some delicacy. In most cases the team will be grateful for any improvements that speed up efficiency—but not every case.
The team might look upon more time-consuming tasks as an essential part of their regular week or work cycle. There might be strong resistance to even the idea of providing less time to complete a task, and some may insist that the largest uses of time are critical to the job…and be willing to defend it ferociously.
If you find the greater time-consuming tasks are useful yet taking up more real estate in man hours than they need to be, discuss with the team the full importance of the task, and make a case for the best use of their time.
Most importantly, look for an alternative method to get the same or better results moving forward, communicating frequently that you’re prioritizing their best interests. It will go a long way to getting and maintaining their support.
Determine what is costing the greatest expenditure of money
Costs are easy to examine but difficult to challenge. Still, turning over every stone, especially the ones with pursestrings attached, is a key component to any kind of process improvement.
With questions about budget, you're challenging everything all at once: man hours, individual priorities, resource costs, and possibly the fundamental mission statement of the department. Make intelligent inquiries whenever possible and at every level applicable to the process improvements you need to make.
Be prepared to hear, "Because that's the way we do things” or “We’ve always done it this way.” You need to stand firm if you're confident that there are improvements to me made and or money to be saved.
Also, look further than the immediate department or team in order to carefully and accurately consider costs. It could be that an unneeded process or expense is coming from another department.
Any advancement in process should be seen (and pitched) as a benefit to the company, not merely to the immediate stakeholders.