A path to continuous process improvement

Every process can be improved! Every process!

It does take energy and time to inspect a process. You might need to overcome inertia (“that’s how we do it”). But it will pay off in the long run!!

It’s important to remind ourselves that process improvement is not a one-time thing; instead, it requires continuous reflection and ongoing critical assessment.

There are many different models, frameworks, and visualizations on process improvement. You can even earn martial-arts-themed belts in some (loving and practicing martial arts myself, I always found that silly, but that’s just me). The key point for all of them is never to stop critically looking at your processes and systems and to ask yourself how you can improve them constantly. What can you do to make the experience better for your customers? How can you simplify the workflow to make it easier for yourself? How can you make the overall system more efficient to reduce total operational costs?

If you want to get started on simplifying your processes, I would (strongly) recommend doing the following:

  1. Start with documentation! – You don’t need to make this a scary huge project that you hope to never get to. Instead, just write down what you do, as you do it. Often you will have something to copy from to further lower the barrier – an email that you sent to the team, meeting notes, a brainstorming document, or your own mindmap. Take that content as the starting point for your documentation. Bonus points if you put your documentation somewhere, where people can find it. Simple documentation beats no documentation every single time!
  2. Audit and reflect critically – Look at what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Ask yourself if all steps are necessary, or if some of them could be changed and simplified. Ask yourself if the customer experience is the greatest it could be. Think of customers as everyone that interacts with the process – true customers, your partners, and supporting resources. Step back and remove yourself from the process and your emotional attachment to it and take a hard look at what doesn’t make sense. Ask your customers what they think you should do differently, ask them what they like and don’t like about the process. In agile, we call this “doing a retro”.
  3. Tweak and test – Try a new process improvement and see how it works. Is it better than what you had before? If so, keep it and keep going. If not, revert back. Try lots of different things and observe how they fare in comparison. Make small tests before you make a big change for everyone. Keep what works, discard what doesn’t. If you want to be fancy and show off, call it “experimentation”.
  4. Update your documentation – Don’t forget this step! In step 1), you spent the time and energy to document what you had before. As you make changes to your SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), also update your documentation to keep it fresh. Few things suck more than out of date documentation.
  5. Simplicity drives adoption – And here is my master rule for all processes: Keep it simple! The simpler, the better. The simpler, the more likely it is that your process will get adopted and followed consistently over time.

Things can always be improved. We might not have gotten it perfectly right the first time, circumstances might have changed (e.g. resourcing constraints), capabilities might have changed (e.g. technology advancements), or certain aspects of what you did before might just not be necessary anymore.

Everything can be improved. I’ve yet to encounter a perfect process or system. Take the time to reflect on what processes you can improve or help to be improved!


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