Check out iCIMS' latest blog post from iCIMS blogger Angelo Gagliano.
Improving process in the work place has been an extremely rewarding job for me over the past 17 years. In my personal resume cover letter I have a sentence that reads “Inefficiency makes me cringe and I am very passionate about getting things done the best way possible.” There are a number of systematic approaches such as Six Sigma that define a structured flow for process improvement, but my own methodology came from more organic means.
Looking for inefficiencies
When I describe my job to people I simply say: "I work with groups to find ways of automating or removing manual steps from their processes". At my core I am a coder/developer; that is I write code with the expectation that multiple people will be able to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on the business. Over time I have been able to establish a reputation as being able to get things done and I am often asked to help with projects to ensure things are being done as smoothly as possible. While it always feels good to be asked to help, I try to be proactive in finding new projects by engaging people in the company.
I have found throughout my career that many people accept their day-to-day routines in the office for different reasons, but generally they do not think their ideas and solutions are possible. Usually no one takes their issues and concerns seriously or the company just does not have the right people in place to help improve their process. All of these often lead to employees not expressing their true concerns or suggestions because they don’t see value in wasting their time on something that will not go anywhere. However, this is where having the right person in place makes a difference.
Mapping out existing Process
As my bag of tricks and tools of the trade have increased to help fight inefficiencies, my overall approach has remained consistent. I always start with observing and documenting the current workflow and process of whatever it is I am trying to improve. Creating a process map helps ensure that we are all on the same page before we begin any work. The map can include simple text descriptions or flow charts that you can create in a tool such as Microsoft Office Visio. You can never underestimate the power and effectiveness of having a visual representation of something. For many people it is difficult to grasp the full process without seeing it mapped out. Once the entire process is mapped out, you can track and compare the process from start to finish in order to show that you have either removed steps, decreased time to accomplish steps, or that you are getting more accomplished with minimal to no increase in time.
The observational step is one that sounds obvious but is one that is so often overlooked. For me, I find it important to try to shadow the end user (the one following the actual process) and putting myself in their shoes to truly understand what it is that they are doing. This does not mean I need to know the technical details and background of everything that it takes to do their job, but the more I understand and am able to speak their language the more impact I can have on suggesting improved ways of accomplishing their tasks. This also helps me to understand why they (or maybe their managers) came to follow the process they have now. Most importantly, during the shadowing process I often find that the end user will say something like “I don’t know why we do it this way” or “if we could do it this way”. This is an unconscious way of the end user speaking up about their dream world. Those are key phrases to look out for as they generally tell me exactly what I need to do to improve their process.
Listen to those who do the work
It does not matter where the request for process improvement comes from, but you have to talk and work with the people who need to follow the process. They are the ones who do the work day after day and that if they have an idea or a suggestion to improve their process, it is probably going to be better than what anyone else could come up with. Sometimes I need to remind them that they are the ones that know their current process the best, which helps them see that someone is taking their concerns seriously. It allows them to open up more and articulate what they see as being the best approach to fixing their issues.
Look at the whole picture
Investigating process improvement for a single person or team is good, but understanding how multiple groups can benefit simultaneously can have a greater impact. If I am going to suggest changing something for one group, I have to understand how this could impact other groups. While investigating how this change will affect other groups, I may find that there is no impact, another group may have to do more or less, or I may be able to come up with a solution that solves problems for multiple groups. As you can see, there is a lot of upfront time that must be spent before jumping in.
Be an Advocate
Considering that there is a good chance my analysis will lead to spending time and possibly money on improving processes, I must be able to have the support of management. If I have their buy in and I know that my recommendations will be met with little to no resistance. It helps make my job easier. I have to be advocate for change in order to obtain support. I need to let people know that I’m committed to creating change for their benefit, so they know they can come to me with their ideas. This creates a support system of resources (people) that I can work with to ensure success.
Process improvement is a great resource for every company. It can help cut costs, improve efficiencies, and even increase company moral and employee retention. At the end of the day, everyone can appreciate organization and streamlined processes. It all starts with a dedicated resource that is focused on process improvement, whether it is one person, or an entire department. Most people can tell when a process is outdated or simply not working, but with the help of someone like me, we can arrive at a solution that saves time, money, and a lot of hassle for everyone. Although people may be resistant to change at first, once they see the full benefit of process improvement- everyone wins.