Recently, I met the CEO of a medium size organization. A few years in that position, he has been driving changes and improvements in this century old organization.
In the meeting, we shared our ideas on how to drive changes.
Over the past few decades, many management “techniques” like Six Sigma, TQM, Lean, Reengineering, and now Design Thinking, come and go. The essence, however, is still the same – to facilitate more effective and efficient work. In the end, it is more customer focused, simplified work. Period.
This is why I usually start with more tangible and meaningful part of work – cross-functional processes – when a client wants to kick-start on its improvement journey.
A cross-functional processes is tangible because it concerns a group of tasks that produce real output for the users or customers. Unlike other things like “teamwork” and “communication”, which are important, but not so tangible to define and improve.
This ensures basic understanding and a clearer focus among people in the organization. Even better, they can “see” improvement when it happens.
Cross-functional processes are also more meaningful because they represent the units of work that satisfy specific customer/user needs. From receiving a user request to delivering the needed output, a process usually covers activities across different functions. For instance, a procurement process usually involves the user department (customer), purchasing, and finance. With what we call an end-to-end process (from user request to delivery) defined, real improvement to the organization can be made.
How many times have you seen fragmented improvement efforts that yielded no overall improvement? To heal this, you need to focus on the whole cross-functional processes.
Processes as the Backbone
Further, by starting with work processes and activities, the related resources – people, technology, and others, can be organized accordingly. It’s like building the backbone or framework before adding the other details.
Methodologies as Tactical Means
In this case, the methodology to use, be it Six Sigma, Lean, or Design Thinking, are means to achieve this ultimate goal of changing the end-to-end processes.
Some may argue that these methodologies are strategic. Don’t get me wrong. They can be. How an organization deploy these methodologies determines if they are strategic, which is not in the nature of the methodologies.
So, What Happened After the Meeting
The meeting with the CEO ended with a good alignment of the expectations on achieving real impactful operational improvements. This also marked the beginning of my “Design Thinking for Breakthrough Process Design” project with this organization.
In the two-day workshop that followed, the participants had already proposed changes that could dramatically reduce workload and enhance efficiency (well, also with no need for extra resources or investment!).
This is the power of real process improvement. Do you want to create this type of quick and impactful changes?