Identifying the improvement

Who doesn’t want to improve things?

Albeit with the best intentions not much comes to fruition.

Too often improvements fail due to their knee jerk implementation; we see a problem and seek to solve it, half way through we realise the problem is bigger than we imagined, we are out of resources and well we had better get back to our jobs.  Another key reason improvement projects fail is the lack of conceptualisation- or thinking which precedes the implementation.

In this practical series we are going to walk through a step by step approach in how to correctly and simply commence the improvement process.

Step 1. Consultation

You may think you know the issue, but is it just your issue or does the problem also affect others?  Consultation enables us to identify the extend of problems and the real issues that the majority of people are facing.

This is an easy step and can be performed formally or informally, through methods including:

  • Meetings
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Conversations
  • Observations

The aim of this is to come out with the tasks, process or work outcome which is problematic.  This could be a huge list or a handful; either way you have accomplished what many before you have failed; consulted with others in bringing problems to light.

For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to ask you to select a single task, process or outcome from your list.  There are many tools which can assist your choice including:

  • Logic – it just makes sense
  • Risk rating
  • Quick solve/win
  • Voting
  • Return on investment
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Balanced Score Card

So, grab your list and select your task, outcome or process and write it down.

My example is: “enrolling students”.

Step 2. Explain the background

You should know why you are targeting this issue and you should be able to clearly express this to others.  Not understanding the rationale for a project is a massive issue as it inhibits our motivation and that of others, it’s also difficult to influence stakeholders when questioned about the purpose of what your team is doing.

My belief is if you can’t understand why you are doing something; really question whether it should be done.

Here I want you to have the confidence in answering any critic when questioned about why you have selected this task to improve.

What helps here:

  • Statistics
  • Research
  • Feasibility studies and reports
  • Benchmarking
  • Alignment with organisational vision, mission and values
  • Demonstration of return on investment

It is also important to consider the task itself; is it something which is performed frequently and core to the organisation?  If so it’s likely that your improvement will yield value.  If it’s a once of or rarely performed task, the improvement investment may not be easily justified.

Use these points in completing step 2:

  • Is the task key to the organisation?
  • How often is the task performed?
  • What are the issue areas; Safety, Time, Cost
  • Why are we targeting this task?

Again, my example of the task of “enrolling students”:

This is an essential task for the organisation as it is linked with regulatory compliance and the primary income source.  On average the task is performed at least 10 times per day.  The key issues are that it takes around 15 minutes to enrol every student, this translates to an opportunity cost of almost $20,000 per year.  The current method involves a high degree of manual process with an increased chance for data entry error.

The rationale for targeting this task is that it is repetitious in nature, it’s not a customer centric role, nor is there any reason why it should be performed manually.  It is also a task which no one likes doing and for that reason it is often not performed in a timely manner.

Step 3. State the improvement

Here is where you sell what you are seeking to improve.  If you have data than quantify your improvement; a reduction in 20% related injuries per year, a cost saving of $10,000, a time saving of 3 hours per week or even that it will free up a resource.

Your solution here should align with the issues identified in step 2; safety, time cost etc.

Again, applied to my example:

The improvement we are seeking to realise is through automation reduce the administrative time for enrolling each student from 15 minutes to 2 minutes.  This will translate in a saving of around $17,000 per year and increase the reliability of data.

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