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February 4, 2014

Words of Advice on Process Improvement

I was asked by a young manager new in her role, what first steps she should take to start to establish a culture of process improvement in her new workstream. I knew she didn’t feel comfortable enough in her new role yet, or have the backing of senior management to start major improvement projects, so I took a gentler tack. I said that the first things she should do were to listen and learn.

I suggested that she should speak to everyone in her team, individually, about their work and how they felt about it; and she should really listen to the answers (including paying attention to body language to gauge how open people were being). She should probe to find out what about the work caused problems for her people, and what the issues were that prevented a smooth flow of work. Then she should speak to each team bringing, anonymously, the issues and problems with the work raised, and gain consensus about the priority problem areas. Then, I suggested, she should bring people in from the other departments or teams affected to see if, as a group, they could work out ways of making things easier for everyone involved and, thus, deliver a better, quicker outcome for the “customer”.

Once she’d help them solve a few of their most pressing problems, I said, the confidence and team spirit of her people would grow and she would be able to introduce more structured improvement activity, like mapping the processes and setting up more formal improvement teams. She seemed to find my thoughts helpful and, importantly, practical. I don’t yet know if they’ve been beneficial.

I wonder what other readers think of my advice. Perhaps I was too soft, and should have suggested more concrete activities? Perhaps I should have suggested improvement training for everyone? Or maybe starting with process mapping as a way of bringing everyone together united in an real understanding of their processes?

I’d be interested in what advice others might give the new manager.