Most firms are interested in improvement, whether focused on cost reduction or revenue maximization. While intentions are always good, and initial spirits often high, improvement projects can easily degrade into an unorganized effort with more questions than answers, no clear path forward, and often a lack of follow-through on improvement actions. At ALCG, we believe in five fundamental concepts that enable successful improvement projects.
1. Clearly articulated and collectively understood purpose.
Without a clear and collectively understood purpose, members of a project team may have varying perceptions of their goal, or they may be confused about why they are being asked to improve a certain part of the business. Without a sense of purpose, people will be less likely to make a personal decision to commit themselves to the project’s success.
2. Shared mental model of the process or system being improved.
At ALCG, we like to say “You can’t ask a person to sculpt without first giving them clay.” When members of a project team have a shared understanding of what it is they are trying to change, they can converse in the same “language”, making brainstorming and creative thinking activities much more effective.
3. Understanding of internal and external supplier and customer relationships.
We all know that as a business, we’ve got suppliers and customers. When speaking about improvement projects, sometimes we are changing processes whose suppliers and/or customers are other processes within the firm. It is important, if an improvement project is to be successful, that the inputs and outputs of processes in question are considered as areas for improvement. The internal supplier and customer relationships are also important to consider, so that improvements in one process do not create degradation of any sort in another process as a consequence. It is not improvement, if inefficiencies are simply pushed to other parts of the business.
4. Commitment to implementation.
In any project, whether it be strategic, marketing based, or strictly operational, the improvement ideas generated will only be as valuable as the commitment to implement them. There are often obstacles in the implementation phase, and it is critical for those involved to be absolutely committed and fully supported by upper management. It is also critical to mention that when possible, project teams should be comprised of the people who work in the areas being targeted for improvement. Not only are they the experts, but they’ve also experienced the headaches, they have great ideas, and they will own the project results, giving implementation actions much higher acceptance and success rates.
5. Mutual respect.
Members of a project group must be able to respectfully and constructively critique one another and brainstorm together. Likewise in the implementation phase, if improvement actions impact people who were not directly involved with the project decision-making outcomes, implementations should be conducted with respect, inclusion, and involvement of those impacted.
With these five fundamentals, your firm should be on its way to conducting successful improvement projects.
With your improvement team, define your project purpose. Next, define the target processes, as well as the customers and suppliers of those processes. What inputs does the supplier provide? What outputs does the target process provide to its customers? What people are involved in the supplier, target, and customer processes? Ensure that there are representatives from each of these entities on the project team in some capacity. Remember, the more involvement, the better the acceptance rate.