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A solid case for process improvement: more than a vague promise of happier customers

Fifty years ago, running a company was a much more predictable business. There was less competition and customers were generally content to make their purchasing choices based on what you had on offer.  If you were a leader in your market, the odds were you’d still be leading the pack ten years hence.

Today, executives are under intense pressure to develop strategies that will help their organisations transform and make the most of the new digital era.  In addition to articulating a clear vision for the future, executives must develop the right business models, obtain the right skill sets and foster an environment that will enable their teams to bring those strategies to fruition, all with the aim of bringing product to market faster while optimising business value.  It seems like a big ask.

For a company of any size operating in today’s business environment, ongoing business process improvement efforts are core to long term success – and in some cases, survival.  When managed well, process improvement efforts can result in clear dividends in terms of their impact on efficiency, engagement, profitability, innovation, and growth. But how do you gain the organisation-wide buy-in required to kick start process improvement efforts and then make sure those initiatives are maintained over time?

When you make continuous process improvement part of your DNA, your staff, your customers, and your company’s bottom line all benefit. But that’s easier said than done. It takes a structured approach to bring process improvement efforts to life and to keep stakeholders involved and motivated.

To build a compelling case for business process improvement, you need to begin by linking the initiative to the organisation’s overall business strategy. Take, for example, your efforts in 2017 to focus on digital transformation.  Demonstrating how process improvement can help the business achieve specific goals in this area alone should help attract the interest and support of senior leadership. To that end, be ready to demonstrate how each of the processes you’re looking to improve will add value from a strategic point of view. Employing a structure that shows how process improvement connects the company’s technology, services, and digital strategy with the customer will help in garnering support from the top.

This may sound obvious, but it is also important to identify and understand the organisation’s critical issues and process problems so that you can tackle these in your process improvement plan.

To pinpoint those issues that are of utmost importance, talk to people within different departments across your organisation so that you can discover not only what’s keeping them up at night, but where there might be disconnects between those doing the day-to-day work and the management team.  And, of course, you should also listen to your customers – what are the issues impacting them, what is their specific feedback regarding your company?

Identifying key issues and getting sign-off from senior leadership is a good start, however that won’t be enough to guarantee success. You will also need buy-in across the business so that people are truly motivated to participate and make the process improvement initiatives work. Seek out process champions in each department or team – they should be the creative doers who are most likely to challenge the status quo and identify better ways of doing things. Their buy-in will help in communicating how process improvement can make things better for both staff and customers.

Make sure you use short, sharp messages that give examples of exactly how process improvement will make things better. Find something new to mention – things like reducing costs or improving customer experience are often overused and not specific enough to grab attention – and always be honest and realistic. It’s all about incremental transformation, which means you’ll need to maintain this messaging over an extended period of time.

Look for a few quick wins.  It’s important to try to get a win on the board as quickly as possible so people immediately see the benefits. Look for processes with high levels of inefficiency, negatively impacting customer experience or in high-risk areas. And recognise that the executive team will need to see more than the promise of happier customers for them to buy-in. They will want to see tangible benefits that are also quantifiable.

Finally, remember that in order to gain continued buy-in to your process improvement efforts, you’ll need to continue to deliver and demonstrate value on an ongoing basis

With so much focus on innovation these days, you could be forgiven for thinking that as long as a business keeps coming up with new and better ideas, success must be guaranteed.  What this ignores however, is that you can’t innovate until you execute.  And to execute you need process.  It doesn’t matter how many amazing ideas you generate if your organisation is unable to implement them.

To be truly successful, business process improvement needs to become an integrated part of your day-to-day operational processes and reviews. Rather than being viewed as an extra, administrative thing to do, process improvement needs to become a normal part of your project methodology and PMO.

The bottom line: To get your process improvement off on the right foot and ensure it’s a success, you’ll need to build a solid case and get the organisation involved. You can’t do it alone. The good news is that, while the hardest part is getting started, it will get easier once you’ve started to demonstrate benefits for customers, staff and executives, and once you have a few wins on the board.

About the author

Ivan Seselj is CEO of Promapp Solutions, an industry leading provider of cloud-based process management (BPM) software for creating and managing business processes online. You can contact him at ivan.seselj@promapp.com or follow him at @Ivanseselj. You can visit Promapp at www.promapp.com. Ivan previously wrote Securing staff buy-in for process improvementsThe leadership traits that inhibit innovation and Nine steps to build an agile business in 2017 for Dynamic Business. 

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Ivan Seselj

Ivan Seselj

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