Ultimately, every company in business wants to do whatever their business does faster, cheaper, and better. One way to support that universal goal is by improving a company’s processes—the ongoing, repetitive sequence of tasks used to get results—with a project. Although they’re often confused, a project is not a process, and a process is not a project.
A process improvement project is a set of activities undertaken to change the way in which a specific aspect of business is done. Like every project, it has a clear objective to accomplish—whether it’s making improvements in terms of speed, costs, quality, customer satisfaction, competitive advantage, or other key factors identified by business leaders. And while a process is generally ongoing, a process improvement project has a beginning and an end. Typically, a process improvement project includes the following stages:
- Defining the “as is” process
- Defining the “to be” process
- Implementing recommendations
- Measuring process improvements
Managing a process improvement project is different from the day-to-day work of managing a company’s established processes. And it has its own set of core requirements and challenges. If you’re tasked with managing a process improvement project, it’s essential to begin with a solid foundation. To help ease the way and improve your probability of success, here are six critical factors to focus on, starting before the planning stage:
- Management support. Process improvement means making changes in the way business has been done for years, or always. Whether that involves reassigning roles, redefining customer interactions, or another overhaul, it may require serious consideration of long-standing problems or unpleasant realities in your organization. Without the support of your senior leaders, it is difficult to achieve meaningful change and lasting improvement. What’s more, a project without management support will quickly be reduced to a snail’s pace in light of other priorities that senior management deems more important.
- An organization’s willingness to accept new ideas. Process improvement requires changes in the way in which individuals interact, in the deliverables they produce, and possibly other more significant changes. While a culture in which change is embraced is the ideal situation, an organization that’s willing to accept new ideas—even if it comes after careful consideration, rigorous evaluation, and serious debate—will see more lasting results as recommendations are internalized and accepted.
- Clear scope and specifications. The scope of the improvement project should include the business processes to be analyzed, the organizations or departments to be impacted, and the outcomes that are expected. How will the project team handle changes to the defined scope during the course of the project? Who will approve proposed scope changes? Who will take responsibility for the impact to timelines and budgets? Without clear answers to such questions, problems managing work are likely to result.
- Clear improvement objectives. Clear objectives about the expected outcome of the project must be communicated in a timely manner and understood by the project team as well as senior management. Clear and specific objectives should be agreed upon by all stakeholders. This will simplify the evaluation of the project at its conclusion.
- Clear and accurate process descriptions. Process documentation, in the form of standard operating procedures, process maps, or flowcharts, must be current, complete, and accurate. Often, process descriptions describe the process as it should be or as it was in the past, but not as it is actually implemented at present. If clear and accurate process descriptions of current business processes do not exist, they must be generated in the early phases of the process improvement project.
- Clear roles and responsibilities. While the process improvement project is finite, the business process being improved is ongoing. Therefore, the project team needs to collaborate with the process owner—an individual, usually a member of the in-house management team, who is responsible for ensuring that recommended changes to a given business process are approved, documented, and, through working other managers and supervisors, implemented in a way that’s repeatable and sustainable.
This article first appeared on amanet.org and adapted for CMC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.