Get Motivated to Fix It
Whether you are a pro or novice fixer of broken things, it feels good to fix broken stuff. Often it seems difficult to get started on the improvement path and even harder when fixing the broken thing involves other team members or stakeholders. This may seem like eating an elephant. So how do you go about “eating an elephant?” You take one bite at a time. This article outlines the steps to help you start fixing wonky work processes that are causing you angst every day. It is all about the small bites.
1. Define the Problem or Opportunity
It may seem obvious but writing down what is wrong with what is a great start. Think of yourself as a detective and learn about the history of the process. Ask some simple questions like why the process is done this way and how long has it been done this way. Ask if anyone has attempted changes in the past. Gain an understanding of all the persons involved in the process. These groups or individuals are called the stakeholders of the process. Are there any measures you can use to quantify the pain in the process? Consider various types of process wastes, delays, or bottlenecks that occur. Things like corrections and rework are types of process wastes that may be good starts for measures.
You can capture this information in the form of a problem or opportunity statement and combine it with other details like objectives, deliverables, scope, and expected project timing in the form of a Project Charter. The problem or opportunity statement quantifies the opportunity. Objectives detail what you want to do about it by when. Deliverables are the tangible things you intend to deliver. Scope statements help define the boundaries of the work. Use the project charter to communicate with the stakeholders and gain support to make improvements. See the example Project Charter above for a Make vs Buy Process (MvB) Improvement whereby information is collected for a leadership business case decision to buy a product from a supplier or manufacture the product internally.
2. Map the Process
The idea behind mapping the process is to make the invisible – visible. When you can see a process flowed out in steps, it is easier to convey the problem to others and point out where the wonkiness occurs.
Everything we do is some form of a process. All processes have inputs and outputs. And there are suppliers of inputs and customers of outputs. Write out each step of how the current process works today and some details about each step. Put it in the form of a process diagram or process map. Make notations of what steps of the current process have problems. Mapping the current state process is also a form of measuring the baseline process performance which can be measured again after changes have been implemented.
Here is an example for the MvB Process. The basic process steps and descriptive notes are added. Current estimated timing is included. Notes of process step issues are listed in red font.
3. Re-Imagine the Process into an Ideal State
Think about the ideal state of the process. Imagine the process with no delays, no bottlenecks, no errors, and no rework. What changes can be made to minimize delays in collecting inputs for the process steps or removing bottlenecks? What changes can be made to help the process steps flow better? It is often that folks do not understand how the process should work, how the inputs and outputs are coordinated, and what the expectations are for each. What changes need to be made? Are there any new tools required? How can you close the gaps between the current state and the ideal state with changes? – Remember, if nothing changes, then nothing changes.
In the example below, we leveraged a SIPOC diagram to better define the process steps, the inputs, and outputs, and who are the suppliers of the inputs and customers of the outputs. This helped to clear up the ambiguity of the process steps and better align the inputs and outputs which helped reduce the overall process lead time and minimize variation in the process. SIPOC is an acronym for Suppliers-Inputs-Process-Outputs-Customers. A more detailed Ideal State map was developed to visualize the ideal process flow.
To close the gaps between the current state and ideal state and enable implementation, new tools and process steps need to be defined and made standard. In our Make vs Buy example, the tools we needed were standard checklists and templates to standardize the inputs, Business Case, and Financial Summary templates to standardize the outputs and a responsibility matrix to define roles and responsibilities and expectations of the end-to-end process stakeholders. Everybody was in – all the process stakeholders helped develop the Responsible, Approve, Support, Inform, Consult (RASIC) and the standard work items.
Checklists and Templates
- Input Checklist for Make & Buy Inputs – Ensures data collected for all required inputs
- Input Source List – Quick look up for what teams provide the input data
- Business Case & Financial Summary Template – Standardizes the output for decision makers
- Responsibility Matrix (RASIC) – Standard work and expectations for all process steps & stakeholders
5. Maintain and Monitor the New Process
Processes are like gardens and require a “constant gardener” or process ownership to maintain their health. It is also good to test the new process in a controlled fashion on the next available opportunity. Having some type of process measures to periodically check the health of the process and defining a process owner are key maintenance and monitor elements. The plan to monitor and maintain a process is often called a Control Plan which is a document or series of documents that are used to help transfer and formalize ownership of the process to the process owner.
In the Make vs Buy Process example, we tested the process on a new business development and defined the planning group as the process owner. They have the Big R or “Responsibility” to maintain the process. The planning group initiates the process, measures the lead time and is responsible for coordinating future continuous improvement. The process uses the standardized checklist and templates to train current and future team members and minimize variation in the process. The planning process owner coordinates the process to keep it in line with the expected duration window. We utilized the RASIC as a form of Control Plan.
Redesigning a broken business process can seem like eating an elephant, but when you define the problem well, make it visible through process mapping, and then define the players, you break it down into smaller bite-size steps. Now you really have the problem half solved.