GIVEN SOME GOOD PEOPLE, THE RIGHT RESOURCES, AND TIME, YOU CAN PROBABLY BUILD A PRETTY good quality program. If you follow some of the recommendations and guidelines discussed in the last chapter, chances are you'll create a program built to add real value to your business, and one that fits well with your business to boot.
But in the field of process improvement, it's important to understand that building the program is just the beginning. When the program is complete, you've achieved a major milestone. And by all rights you should be proud. But the real work is not finished. It's only about to begin. If you've designed your process program the right way, then you've designed it to successfully improve your business. And as is true with most significant factors in the business world, the measure of that improvementits degree of successtakes time. The term continuous process improvement holds the key. The trick to the success of your program will not come from merely building something good, it will come from using it: using it over time, refining it, making it better and better, and allowing it to become a permanent part of your organization's business approach.
The key to successful process improvement is sustaining process improvement.
Most quality programs get through their design and construction phases pretty well. Where they begin to falter is typically in the first six months of implementation. There are some general reasons why this is so.
Sometimes those first months of implementation are seen as anticlimactic. The building phase may have been full of enthusiasm and anticipation. A lot of creative energy was probably energetically spent. Then when it comes to rolling out the programto broadly disseminating itthe daily rhythm of the business routine may take over, dulling the shine of the new initiative and perhaps weighting it down under long-standing day-to-day concerns.
Sometimes the program suffers because of a simple yet all-too-common oversight: the people in the organization were not properly prepped to use it. Training (as discussed in the last chapter) is a critical ingredient in establishing your process program. It's an equally important ingredient in sustaining the effectiveness of your program. Perhaps it's often overlooked because training can easily be perceived as an add-on or extra (supplemental) activity: something nice to have but maybe not essential. But when this is skipped, for whatever reason, you run the risk of alienating your people from the process. If the process appears dense or intense, cumbersome or confusing, irrelevant or irrational, people will not adopt it. They'll ignore it as best they can. They'll implement it in the lightest way possible. That being the situation, even the best of programs will evaporate over time.
Sometimes process programs fall short because the commitment to their success wanes. This is usually a management issue. During the design phase, management may not have truly realizeddespite all the floating wisdomthat a process program is primarily a management program. Only in a secondary sense is it a worker tool. And so for it to be successful, management must back the program as an essential business practice.
But what often happens is that program adoption and use is viewed as a down-line responsibility, something that should rightly filter up from the organization, or that once implemented should naturally take hold across work teams. This laissez-faire approach is rarely successful. It communicates an air of indifference. In that kind of atmosphere, no process program can prosper, much less realize its benefits.
And then there are other common problems, all the result either of weak interpretation, misdirection, or speculative inaction. For example, once the program is in place, management might decide that the resources that brought it into the organization can now be directed elsewhere. Or if resistance is encountered (as it always will be to some extent), no official effort is made to mitigate it. And then, as tends to happen in immature organizations, once the heat gets turned up on a project or on a business initiative, the first thing that gets jettisoned over the side is the process program.
In this chapter, I'll discuss some tips and techniques for sustaining process improvement in your organization to avoid the kinds of situations described above. But when it comes to success, there are really no formulas for process program management. And as far as rules go, there are only two:
But the following series of considerations should be helpful to those starting out on a process improvement initiative, and they are points that I have used successfully and have seen used successfully to help root a process program in place so that it stands the best chance of growing to its potential.
In brief, these 12 considerations are as follows: