Process Improvement: If It Isn’t Documented, It’s Not Real!

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“We’ve told them a hundred times about that problem, but nothing ever happens.”

I’m sure you have heard this many times and I hear a version of this every day in every organisation I work with. ‘Them’ being management and ‘us’ being the frontline.

There is a mixture of reality and perception in these statements, however, for the most part they are true. We have to believe that the majority of people, at all levels in organisational life, show up with the best intentions. They want to do the right things for the business as well as the customer, and contribute positively to their team. People naturally want to take pride in their work. If only out of pure self-interest people want to improve their daily work to make things more streamlined, easier and less frustrating.

As they say,“the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. In this case the good intentions are the multitude of conversations, thoughts and ideas that permeate our work environments but go nowhere. They are discussed, agreed, thought out but then sadly forgotten or lost in the flux of the day to day or someone’s notebook or memory. This can also speak to people absolving themselves of ownership and responsibility by highlighting a problem once and washing their hands of it. They believe that they have made their contribution and place unrealistic expectations on others to carry the torch. Often the expectation in our minds of having these conversations means that we have liberated and actualised the thing. We believe that something tangible will happen as a result. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

There must be a formal means to enable the capture, escalation, and action of this feedback from our people, process and customer.

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Documenting process improvement

To achieve the goal of facilitating quality constructive feedback organisations must develop structures and processes that allow the organisation to ‘listen’ and to ‘act’ effectively. These structures can take a number of forms. The spectrum spans items such as a locked suggestion box in the lunch room through to a fully integrated digital platform (and everything in between).

The structure must be something that provides an appropriate. and regular,  catchment for feedback. It must be engaging; designed to actively seek the feedback you require. We’ve previously discussed how this may be achieved through daily routines. Processes such as daily visual management and Gemba walks or other continuous improvement tools like value stream mapping or improvement Kata are key examples.

The next parts of the puzzle are effectively managing and documenting the information, communicating it, prioritising and executing. In a continuous improvement environment the administration of feedback from the process can potentially overwhelm. Our ability to manage and effectively resource can suffer if we are not careful. We can quickly reinforce old stereotypes by stifling the flow of genuine feedback and action.

The power of visual management for process improvement

Typically through engagement with a visual medium we can capture and begin to document regular feedback from our people. This is an important daily routine where, through our daily structure, we are seeking to understand how our process is performing against expectation.

We have the relevant conversation of: what’s working well, what’s not, and where there are opportunities for improvement. The key is, of course, to document all of this. Most importantly we want to document it visually for all to easily interpret. It is the facilitator or leader of these daily meetings that is tasked with documenting the conversations and the follow up actions. It is critical that these are captured and clarified at the time – they almost need to be scribed in real time. This documentation would practically look like:

  • Date the issue/idea was raised
  • The nature of the issue/idea and the current situation
  • What the objective and or the next agreed step or experiment should be
  • When this is to be done
  • Who is responsible for the action
  • What is the expected completion date
  • Status of the activity

Visibility of process improvement is an asset

As simple as this process sounds this creates the appropriate level of visibility and accountability.  This is particularly true for more granular day-to-day process correction and improvement activity. It also helps to form trust in that when something is raised there will be documentation, ownership, responsibility, and a timeline for action. The accountability is then on the leader and action owner to follow up. They should provide regular feedback on the status and progress of the activity.

This becomes an extremely powerful process with daily visibility and scrutiny. Confidence grows in the teams as items are actioned and closed out. Of course, there are times when there are many items on the list that may challenge our resources and outweigh our capacity to execute within a reasonable timeframe. In this case we must work to prioritise these actions and ensure that visibility remains. We must maintain regular updates and ensure feedback is provided on the status. People will accept this situation as long as there is visibility and they are able to understand the prioritisation of activity.

Documenting ideas, problems and actions ensures that they are visible. Plus it means that people are held accountable. It means things are not lost and that we can prioritise without fear of things dropping off the radar. Trust me, people will appreciate the reminders and feedback.

It then only becomes a question of when things will be done – not if. 

Developing the C.I. Framework, Not Just Locally Optimised ‘Islands’.

For effective process improvement we must ensure alignment of all the elements involved. We must consider the adjacent systems and processes (along with the people involved) across the entire CI framework. Documented tools like standardised problem solving techniques, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and a Tiered Daily Management process that supports the entire PDCA loop are key to achieving strategy success.

Below we’ve outlined how we designed the interconnected TeamAssurance platform to avoid locally optimised, disconnected ‘Point Solutions’ (digital or analog) that do not help, and may even hinder your process improvement objectives.

TeamAssurance Connected Systems Chart-Mar-29-2023-08-12-56-4774-PM

If you’re a business in need (or a consultant with clients in need) and you’d like to explore the process improvement opportunities that digital-aids to Lean tools provide contact us for a demonstration of the platform today.

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