When organizations launch process improvement programs, there is often a progression individuals work through as they brainstorm project ideas. This progression is what I observe as “project selection maturity” and it’s helpful to understand how it works.
Project selection maturity naturally improves with experience. As individuals practice selecting projects, their ability to discern and pick projects with the best prospects for overall success increases. Although not every individual goes through each phase, there are three common stages.
The three stages of project selection maturity are in the form of a question:
- Stage One: How do we fix other people’s processes?
- Stage Two: How do we fix our processes?
- Stage Three: How do we make it easier for the customer?
Stage One: How do we fix other people’s processes?
Stage One is the first level of maturity for project selection. At this stage, people focus on what’s wrong with other people and their processes rather than focusing on their own. Stage One projects lose momentum and often have low success rates for reasons such as lack of support, lack of buy-in, lack of participation and/or inability to implement a solution. It’s difficult to improve when focusing on a process that is not within our control!
What Stage One Sounds Like
- “My process works just fine, it’s the other sections that need improving.”
- “My project is about fixing HR’s recruitment process. I’m tired of waiting on them and it seems like they don’t have time to work on their own process, so I’m selecting it for my project.”
My process works just fine, it’s the other sections that need improving.
Why Stage One Projects Are Not Ideal
Attempting to fix other people’s processes, especially without involving them, is not a popular or successful approach. How would you feel if you went on vacation, and when you returned, someone from another department said:
- “Oh, while you were gone, we fixed your process. Here are the process changes. Can you start doing them right away?”
Sounds disrespectful, right? Yes, and it is!
But, somehow when we do the same thing, we are perplexed when other people don’t see it as a favor. We may ask, “Why don’t they want to change? Is it a change management issue?” Yes, but it also has to do with the approach. Fixing other people’s processes without involving them is always a mistake for two reasons.
- Process improvement should involve those that do the work because they know the process best, and probably have great ideas about what’s wrong and what changes might work. In addition, process improvement is best achieved through collaboration and respect, not done secretly in isolation. That kind of an approach will make people resistant and slow to accept change.
- Sometimes it seems that simply designing the solution, with minimal involvement of others, is the fastest most efficient way to affect change. And it is… until you get to implementation. It’s difficult to implement and sustain improvements if those that work in the process don’t support or buy into the changes. Process improvement without involving those that do it, results in low sustainability. Involve the right people, right from the beginning.
How to Move Beyond Stage One
Here are some questions to ask to help individuals move beyond Stage One:
- How much of this process involves you?
- If other people own the process, are they on the team too?
- How much of this process is within your control?
- How successful do you think you will be, if you try to fix a process that someone else owns?
- What are some processes that you have more ability to affect or control?
Stage Two: How do we fix our processes?
Stage Two is the next level of maturity. It sounds good, right? Fixing your own processes seems like a smart place to focus. At this point, individuals have embraced improving their own processes rather than focusing on others. By Stage Two, individuals see the wisdom of working on a process they have some control over to achieve significant, overall impact.
What Stage Two Sounds Like
- “If we do this project, it will reduce the amount of time our department spends on this process. Our department will save a lot of time.”
- “Our department didn’t need all that information on the forms so we eliminated it. But, we found out later that another group needed it.”
If we do this project, it will reduce the amount of time our department spends on this process. Our department will save a lot of time.
Why Stage Two Projects Are Not Ideal
Stage Two projects are certainly better than Stage One projects. These efforts usually involve individuals or teams working on productivity gains. Improving internal productivity frees up time to work on other important things. However, the issue here is that the focus is internal rather than external. People spend time making things easier for those that work in the process with the risk of becoming department-centric and losing the voice of the customer.
When teams become too department-centric, they inadvertently push work onto other departments instead of improving the overall process. They forget to think about how the changes may impact the customer. Being focused solely on your piece of the process can become self-serving and lead to a myopic view of process performance.
Ultimately, these “Voice-of-Department” projects are still suboptimal, and teams should be encouraged to select projects that have a direct customer impact instead.
How to Move Beyond Stage Two
Here are some questions to ask to help individuals move beyond Stage Two:
- How does this change impact the customer?
- Why would this process improvement be important to the customer?
- How will this process improvement affect other departments, sections or units?
- What does your customer care about?
- Will this suggested improvement reduce the overall cycle time of the process? Or just for your section?
Stage Three: How do we make it better for our customer?
Stage Two can be a great place to hone individual and team improvement skills, but there’s an even better place to be! It’s Stage Three, focusing on the customer to drive meaningful improvement and guide project selection.
What Stage Three Sounds Like
- “We spent a lot of time doing a certain step in the process, but then we discovered that it didn’t add value for the customer, so we removed it from the process to speed things up.”
- “We discovered that the customer was frustrated with the cycle time of the process and we wanted to work to reduce it.”
We discovered that the customer was frustrated with the cycle time of the process and we wanted to work to reduce it.
Why Stage Three Is The Best
Ultimately, organizations want to satisfy their customers. We want individuals to understand the voice of the customer. If people understand customer requirements, it’s easier to eliminate waste and non-value-adding activities in the process.
Non-value-adding steps are not worth doing from the customer’s perspective. If a step doesn’t add value, then improvement teams can minimize, streamline or eliminate it, thereby reducing wasted time and resources in the process.
If projects are customer-focused, customers actually feel the improvements and that builds loyalty. In today’s ever-changing world, customer loyalty is golden.
How to Stay In Stage Three
Questions to ask to help individuals stay in Stage Three:
- What does your customer care about?
- How do we measure what customers care about?
- How are we doing given what customers care about?
- What are we doing to close the gap between what customers want and our capability to provide it?
So, now you know the three stages of project selection maturity. Hopefully, you’ll maneuver to Stage Three as quickly as possible!