Process optimization creates value when it is implemented wisely
Lean and process optimization have been used as an approach to efficiency in administration and service – in public and private organisations. In many places, it has contributed to remarkable successes with significantly reduced response times for customers and reduced costs for companies.
At the same time, Lean and process optimization have been blamed for many evils. e.g. that Lean reduces complicated and knowledge-intensive processes to simple "sausage factories" to the fact that many and long mapping workshops do not provide a value commensurate with the effort at all.
Actually, we do not find it so interesting whether the Lean wave has peaked - or whether Lean has contributed to almost perverse reductions of common sense. It is not about fashion, and any vision of change for the better can be drowned in methodological mistakes, bad management and incompetent consultants.
Process optimization remains relevant because…
- We see many processes that could be designed more efficiently to that extent.
- We see many process designs that are actually very cleverly thought out – they just aren't followed through. Employees and management do not do as agreed. For many good reasons.
- An effective process optimization depends to a large extent on how the change process is approached and which changes are actually implemented - more than on whether the Lean book is followed to the letter.
Some good advices when you need to optimize processes
- Select the central processes with volume so that you end up influencing the core business.
- Get control of your mapping methodology so that it is clear and visual. The participants in a workshop on process optimization must be able to follow the mapping on the wall - both in the structure and in what is actually written.
- Facilitation without expertise is bad – and expertise without facilitation is just as bad. You get the most out of both being in control of how you professionally involve and create positive participation, and having the in-depth knowledge of the business, the system, the culture, the behavior, the "everyday mechanisms", which enable you to stop, zoom in and ask curious questions. It's about finding the interesting - where the potentials are. It is difficult alone with good facilitation without expertise. Or alone with great expertise without the positive involvement of everyday experts – those who work in the process.
- Engage with few interventions aimed at systemic change. That is to say, look at the process as a whole, and consider general measures such as: – Should the cases be started completely differently with screening and immediate collection of missing documentation?
– Should cases be distributed by pull rather than push?
– Should cases be divided into simple categories – short and long?
– Should the organization follow the case types – general team and special team?
- Should the cases be managed so that they go through on a "green wave"?
- The point is that measures such as the one above often relate to larger chunks or entire recalibrations of the process as a whole - rather than individual piece improvements. And that these measures create far more effect, and are far easier to maintain, because they are new regimes supported by changes in the form of physical or digital tools, new team formations, perhaps a physical place for the screening team, etc. These are manifest changes which it's a little harder to work around or roll back.
- Use the blitz format for process optimization design and implementation. A blitz is a particularly well-tested format, which is basically about gathering relevant employees and managers in a focused workshop over 1-3 days to "get everything done so that the new process can run from tomorrow". This means, for example: having the relevant tools, best pracitises and standards prepared, having new roles described, having training material made and kick-off prepared for the colleagues. In other words, many of the elements that are often neglected in change processes, and thus become the reason why the super good visions and specific designs never translate into changed behaviour.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up. It goes without saying... and yet it often comes down to good intentions.