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Do Your Process Improvements Matter?

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Once a company commits to continuous improvement, it’s tempting to act on every suggestion that arises. However, constantly exploring changes across every level of the business can become its own distraction. If you want to make process improvements that matter, take a strategic approach to prioritize improvements that build on your company’s competitive edge.

Tips to prioritize process improvements

As enthusiasm for your continuous improvement program builds, you may find yourself overwhelmed by proposed changes. While that enthusiasm is terrific, it depends upon leadership management to identify next steps for turning improvements into reality. There are a number of question you can address to help guide project prioritization:

1. Does this boost my competitive edge?

By translating the company’s competitive strategy (in other words, why customers buy your offerings and not the competition’s) into a process improvement strategy, process improvement leaders can pinpoint initiatives that might make a meaningful difference in revenue or profit.

Companies like Google, Apple, and Nike don’t need to focus on excellence in every process. They need simply focus on product development to achieve or maintain industry leadership. On the other hand, companies like Walmart and McDonald’s that compete by providing consistent, reliable and low-cost products may need to continually improve operational processes to remain competitive.

2. Is this change simple to understand and implement?

One of the leading reasons process improvements fail to take hold is because of low adoption among users. If it’s easy to understand the new process and the positive results to which it will lead, you have a higher chance of seeing successful implementation and getting the results you want.

3. Do you have people in place to lead and sustain the change?

Whether you’re looking for change leaders, or a certain skill set to implement the change, it’s important to remember that people must be at the center of your process improvements.

4. Are there potential risks from the change?

A risk of backsliding? A risk of a poor customer reaction? Some risks might be worth the reward, while others clearly aren’t. Make sure you understand potential trade-offs before implementing any process improvement.

5. Will the change compete with other operational priorities?

Will one change lead to a snowball effect of resulting changes? This Harvard Business Review article offers a perfect case in point: a postal service company delivering packages ordered a focus on two operational priorities: efficiency (reducing delivery times) and customer satisfaction (ensuring customers had a good experience). When one team member was met at the door by an elderly person who asked her to come in and talk for a while, the conflict revealed itself. Spending a little time with a lonely older person would increase customer satisfaction, but would leave delivery time (efficiency) to suffer. Management thought they had communicated clear priorities, but had actually created an operational dilemma.

Re-evaluate process improvements regularly

It’s also important to remember that for every process improvement initiative, the questions themselves will likely change. As companies evolve and their priorities shift, leadership may need to find new metrics for prioritizing projects. It’s entirely possible that your successful process improvement initiatives will drive these changes.

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