Is your office in remote mode? So many teams are now working from home as we collectively battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work can reduce personal and community health risk. Yet it can be unhealthy for your organization. Remote work can be slower and less accurate, impacting your organization and your community. A key question in this transition is: With this big change of unknown duration, how will your team continue to serve your community in a seamless way?
Teams that move to remote work find key risks.
o Paper piles of work are no longer visible, resulting in stalled or forgotten work.
o In-person double checks and communication may not happen, resulting in errors and embarrassment.
o Quickly made process adjustments to fit remote operations create the risk of errors and missed steps.
o Back-and-forth online communications may slow work down, consuming already tight capacity.
Remote work is an opportunity to redesign your processes to regain capacity, maintain quality, keep up speed, and preserve your reputation. Some organizations are using proven process transformation tools to achieve these goals. For example, as a result of our process transformation work, one foundation recaptured time while delivering error-free results for three years. This group became an effective cross-organization team, performing better and accomplishing more in a consistently high-quality manner.
Is this what you are looking for?
If your team is going remote, connect with process improvement coach Lee Kuntz about a live, online checkup for your key processes. We use our proven process transformation coaching, training, and tools to help you mitigate risk and deliver upon your organization’s commitments. Checking up on small processes can be done in a couple hours.
Contact Lee to discuss how your team can create a seamless transition to remote processes while maintaining and growing great results.
Have you improved your work process, tweaking how work is done or fixing broken steps? Most agree process improvement is good. Yet many staff members are too busy fighting fires to think about how to do their work. They get stuck in the rut of doing things as they’ve always been done. The answer to this miserable dilemma? Moving from the small tweaks associated with traditional process improvement to radical process transformation.
A starting point in thinking about process improvement is understanding what the term even means. In a recent online search, I found ten different definitions for ‘process improvement.’ Many people see process improvement as adding, deleting, or modifying work steps to change how work is done.
The problem with this commonly held definition is that the focus is on tweaks to change to work steps rather than improving outcomes. For example, suppose I want to move from balancing between sources with an adding machine to using an Excel spreadsheet. This improvement seems like a positive change. When I pitch this to my boss, I focus on how the process will change. My boss asks how much time the change will take to implement. That use of resources gives her pause, as she knows our big workload. Most likely, she will say we don’t have time to make changes right now. We need to stay the course and take on the next emergency. We can do the improvement later, when things get better.
Since I did not identify the positive impact of my proposed enhancement, my boss didn’t see its value compared to the other big priorities crashing through her door. Too often, defining process improvement as tweaking how work is done causes this important tool to be ignored.
Process improvement can truly produce more favorable outcomes than had been realized before. Without it, employees can become locked in a vicious cycle in which underlying process flaws are not corrected. As in the example below of an improperly prepared check, both customers and staff can become frustrated by processes that don’t work as they should.
If the cycle consists of complaint-pull-fix without also investing time in fixing the issue for all customers, similar problems are likely to occur in the future. That means staff will work longer and longer hours responding to emergencies, getting further and further away from the good work they want to do. Eventually staff may burn out and leave, placing a greater burden on remaining employees to do the work.
I have experienced this vicious cycle in my own life. Early in my career, I accepted a job in an area that claimed to promote great work-life balance. My superiors promised there would be overtime only at year-end. Once I was there, I found that by overtime, they meant seven days a week for six weeks! I barely saw my young children for a month and a half. When I commented about the excessive overtime, the staff said it was always that way, and to just “suck it up” because it would not change. I questioned the culture and the paradigm, and I wondered if things would ever get better. That unpleasant situation has inspired me for the rest of my career.
To correct agonizing situations such as the one I survived, I rename, rephrase, and reposition process improvement in my training by sharing the story of process transformation.
Process transformation is the use of proven process improvement tools to maximize what the organization has now to achieve an improved outcome.
Process transformation solves pain points organizations experience so they can work toward efficient, effective, and high-quality outcomes for their customers. Organizations have achieved the following outcomes from this approach.
There are three important points in this definition of process transformation.
1. Proven tools. A recent survey by change management specialist Prosci indicated that the majority of process improvement projects fail, primarily due to lack of proven tools, experience, and support. The good news is that there are tools and training that offset this risk. The key is to leverage the tools and training that work with your industry and situation. For example, quality management tools require rigorous training on statistical analysis and are great for manufacturing organizations. However, statistical analysis principles have little use in a service organization. A better tool for a philanthropic or charitable organization would be one that helps employees identify wasted steps.
2. Maximize what the organization has now. Employers manage more than work steps or process to achieve the outcomes they need. They leverage business policies, roles and responsibilities, technology, work steps, and other elements to create desired outcomes. Some of these components are helpful and efficient, while others end up undercutting objectives. For example, the policy of a foundation I am coaching might require that grants be paid within two weeks after being approved. If the competition can pay a grant within three days, I ask my client to identify and maximize everything they have now to achieve faster turnaround.
3. Improved outcomes. To ensure that the desired results are achieved, process transformation identifies the needed outcomes before the improvement work begins. To illustrate, a team may decide they need to recapture and reinvest half the time they are now spending to issue grants. This may amount to one hour per grant, for a total of 500 to 1,500 work hours. Once leaders understand the payback from their investment in process transformation, they support the investment. Learn more about this concept in my companion blog post: Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End.
Process transformation requires an investment of both time and resources to be successful. When leaders and staff members learn about tools that will help them work smarter rather than harder, they find that their investment pays off. The graph below shows immediate results achieved when process transformation tools were used in four recent projects:
We have been coaching and training teams in process improvement and transformation for more than two decades. A recent study of our clients indicated that their returns overwhelmingly offset their investment. Typically, we have found that the first year’s results more than cover the costs of the training and staff time investment, with future years’ savings being “gravy.” Imagine sharing with your organization’s leadership or board that your team can take on more without additional staff because the team has recaptured and repositioned 1,000 to 2,000 work hours.
Now back to my story. After being told to “suck it up,” I was determined I would never again work that much overtime. Therefore, I sought and gained leadership approval to conduct a process transformation project. I committed to leadership that I would shorten the year-end work time for everyone. To do so, I partnered with my team using proven improvement/transformation tools to maximize everything we already had. As a result, we cut the steps to complete our year-end reporting in half. In the next year-end cycle, the team worked only one weekend rather than the six weekends we had with the old process.
If your team works overwhelming hours, reacts to constant emergencies, or is not maximizing expensive software, process transformation may be the answer to your problems. With an initial investment, your team can solve its pain points, recapture time, and deliver better and faster outcomes to your customers.
Learn more by leveraging our free website assessment tools to diagnose your pain point, or contact Lee Kuntz to talk about your needs. Organizations have found hundreds—even thousands—of work hours to reinvest in serving their customers. You can, too
Accounting and finance departments routinely get tasked with accounts payable responsibilities. And we work hard to get payments out timely and accurately. Yet are we doing all we can to work efficiently and effectively? Or are there delays, duplicate payments, rounds of rework, or late payments?
Lee Kuntz is facilitating a session at the next Nonprofit Financial Group of the Twin Cities meeting to surface accounts payable best practices. In this September 26, 2019 session, attendees will hear the latest on how nonprofits are transforming their accounts payable process into a sleek, painless operation while recapturing hundreds even thousands of hours of time.
Attendees at this no cost meeting will hear the results of Lee Kuntz’s 2019 survey of nonprofit accounts payable tool and payment method best practices. Also seasoned accounts payable staff will share their experience in streamlining their processes. These leaders have successfully recaptured work time and enhanced accounts payable outcomes.
What would your nonprofit do with 1,000 hours of work time back?
The learning objectives for this session are:
• Learn the latest technology tools and payment methods
• Learn to measure process efficiency and effectiveness
• Learn the process transformation steps to recapture time, get responsibilities in the right place and better control expenses
• Learn how nonprofits are getting support for new accounts payable system investments
Register for this no cost session at: Registration: Transform Accounts Payable!
Lee Kuntz, process improvement speaker, trainer, coach, and strategist, has helped numerous nonprofits to successfully create capacity and deliver better and faster results to their community. Lee believes employees are the right people to improve how work is done. When they have skills-and-will in continuous process improvement, they can achieve impressive results.
Clients Lee has trained and coached have recaptured thousands of hours of work time from their back office and have reinvested the time saved into the community. These organizations
Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?
With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.
These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?
The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.
A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.
I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.
Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.
The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.
Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.
As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.
When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.
Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.
When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.
Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End
Is your organization planning and budgeting for next year? Are you tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, such as overwhelming workloads, demands for better or faster results, or challenges to maximize costly technology? At the recent Twin Cities Nonprofit Financial Group meeting, I shared three steps to solve these pain points this year.
The Secret: Invest in Continuous Process Improvement
Organizations that help and serve others are recapturing hundreds—even thousands—of hours of capacity. They are serving their customers, community, board, funders, and donors in half the time. They are retaining employees.
Their secret? Investing in continuous process improvement to get big, immediate results with a small investment.
Recently we surveyed our client’s continuous process improvement results. Our customers achieved a 1.5- to 3-times return on their investment during the first year after implementation. This return came in the form of recaptured time and error-free results. These organizations continued to experience recaptured time and positive feedback from customers year after year.
Three critical approaches bring organizations big, immediate results with a small investment in continuous process improvement.
1. Get trained on proven tools
2. Get coaching to use the tools successfully
3. Maximize everything the organization has now
Because continuous process improvement teams maximize the tools and resources they have now, there is little additional investment. Also, the team achieves results fast when they choose their best and easiest to implement ideas. For example, one leader implemented the team’s improvement ideas the next day.
Invest in Building Process Improvement Muscle
Leaders are bringing the story of continuous process improvement to their organizations’ annual planning discussions. Yet a common question is: What does the initial investment consist of?
As shown in Figure 1, the initial investment in continuous process improvement includes two components: employee time and out of pocket costs for training and coaching. An employee will spend between 5 to 40 hours annually doing successful process improvement. The cost of the training and coaching depends upon the amount, level, and number of days needed. Contact me to learn more about training options.
Find Funding and Support
Civic, public, financial, and healthcare organizations fund their initial investment to kick off their continuous process improvement work in three ways.
Train to Retain. Some leaders include training in their annual budget so they can retain employees. A study conducted for Minnesota’s West Central Initiative found organizations that provide employees with training had a 50 percent lower turnover rate than those that did not. Read more at: West Central Initiative Study Summary. Budgeting for CPI training is a great way to begin your team’s continuous process improvement journey.
Use Discretionary Funds. Most organizations have some discretionary funds. One community action council identified enough money to in their discretionary budget to fund continuous process improvement training for 12 employees. Afterwards, the employees immediately implemented the improvement ideas they developed during the training.
Watch the Budget. Look for times when there is budget available. I get those calls about a month before the organization’s fiscal year-end. “I have some remaining budget to spend before the end of the year. Come now, Lee!”
Plan to Solve Pain Points in the Coming Year
When an organization and the staff are tired of fighting the same pain points year after year, it is time for continuous process improvement. Organizations have recaptured thousands of work hours while delivering better and faster results to their customers, their community, and their board. You can, too! Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to learn more about how your organization can plan to solve pain points and thrive.
Discover the tools service and business leaders adopt to manage and improve their processes and achieve greater success. Watch video >>
Susan sat in an operations meeting, listening to the discussion of this week’s customer complaints. This time a customer complained that he did not see his request in the online portal as expected. Last time it was about a missing transaction confirmation.
The subject line of the meeting invite was “Process Improvement.” However, Susan wondered: What is process improvement? And what does it have to do with addressing customer complaints?
What Is a Process?
To understand process improvement and what it can achieve, first we need to understand the basics.
A process is a series of work steps done to achieve a specific outcome. For example, each morning you strive to make your favorite cup of coffee. You have steps you do every day to create that tasty cup. These steps may be:
1. Measure water.
2. Pour water into coffee maker.
3. Turn on coffee maker.
4. Set brew time.
5. Place coffee cup under coffee maker spout.
6. Insert the coffee pod into the maker.
7. When coffee maker sounds, remove your cup.
8. Add just the right amount of the right creamer.
Outcome: Your favorite cup of coffee.
Whether it is making that favorite cup of coffee, creating requests in the online portal, or delivering transaction confirmations, the process consists of the steps taken to perform the work and the outcomes they produce.
What Is Process Improvement?
Process improvement is changing the steps of a process to improve the outcome. For example, back to that cup of coffee. Have you had a cup of coffee at a restaurant that was better than yours?
You may go home and try a different approach to get that better cup of coffee: adjust the brew time, use colder water, or use less water. You keep adjusting various steps until you get the desired results. Tweaking the coffee-making process in order to get a better outcome is process improvement.
Returning to Susan’ situation, the “Process Improvement” meeting is an opportunity for the team to improve how work is done to eliminate customer complaints.
What are the best process improvement steps to achieve the results you need? Check out my companion blog to learn about approaches that improve outcomes. 4 Process Improvement Approaches: Which One Works Best?
In summary, what is process improvement? When done well, it solves pain points seen at work each day. Process improvement can eliminate customer complaints, create capacity, solve thorny issues, and create a return on a major investment in a new system. When done well, process improvement changes how work is done and can help you achieve the results you need.
When you need to change outcomes of your processes for your complex service organization, contact me. We can talk through the outcome you need and how process improvement can get you there. Others have successfully redesigned their processes to improve outcomes. You can too.
I am constantly beating my head against a brick wall! Our continuous improvement team delivers training, leaders listen, shaking their heads yes, and leave excited. When they go apply what they learned, they can’t seem to connect the dots – like we’re speaking a language they don’t understand. Perhaps Martian gibberish…
They contact us when the wheels fall off rather than for help with proactive improvement. This is NOT what I signed up for. I thought I was going to make a difference. But now it appears my job is on the line! HELP!
Hopeless in Boulder, CO
Gosh, sounds like you’re walking on a tight rope 50 feet in the air at a circus.
This is where continuous improvement leaders land when they aren’t receiving the needed support.
It’s time to assess the strengths and weaknesses of your continuous improvement program.
First question to assess your program: Do you have documented results that continuous improvement has generated? Hours saved? Errors decreased? Customers served faster?
Evidence Gets Support.
We teach our teams to outline results before and after the continuous improvement project. We have a template I can share with you.
Asking and answering key questions will help identify your program’s opportunities.
This approach generates a customized program to gain the support and turn your team into heroes.
There is hope. We have helped many continuous improvement leaders off the tight rope. They have successfully gained support and do the work they deserve. You can achieve this success too.
Dear Lee: We will replace our main software tool in the next two years. I have promised a big benefit from our big software investment.
I know process redesign can save us thousands of hours and deliver more value to our customers and board. But should we wait until the new software is in before redesigning our processes? Or redesign our processes now?
Tangled in Priorities in Indiana
Dear Tangled: What a thoughtful question! The chicken before the egg? The cart before the horse? Sorbet as a palate cleanser or dessert?
I have been asked this question several times in the last few months. Some background is needed.
Usually, software providers begin installation by asking for the work steps to be automated by the software. You could provide the current version of your process.
However, many times critical processes are built through decisions made over many years. For example, an auditor’s comment prompts an organization to add a double check to ensure payments are accurate. Then the next auditor sees more risk, so another double check is added. Yet another double check becomes part of the process in response to an error.
Another example: Your organization confirms client investments by paper. Then some clients want email confirmations, so that step is added to the process. But some clients don’t want email confirmation, so confirmations are stopped for those clients. When your organization implements a client portal, clients can see their investments online. Now you are operating four different investment confirmation alternatives.
Over time, these changes slow a process down and eat up capacity. And these layers may or may not deliver what clients or your organization need today.
Leaders of complex service organizations, including public and private foundations, have weighed in on the question of which should come first: a new software install or process redesign. The leaders I talked with said they do process redesign before a software installation so they can clearly identify and automate the right process—the process that will give them the biggest return on their software investment.
What is Process Redesign?
Process redesign is a change in work steps to improve outcomes. One component of proven process redesign is reviewing and updating your business rules. Business rules are decisions made by your organization about what is delivered and how work is done. Business rules can include:
The Bottom Line
To answer your question, ask yourself: Which version of our process do we want to automate? The legacy process that has layers and layers of steps that no longer are needed? Or a process that gets us the results we need?
If you redesign processes now, before you install new software, you can build the work steps that deliver the customer experience you need. You can recapture hundreds or even thousands of work hours starting now. Other leaders have taken this journey successfully. You can, too!
Learn more about this proven process redesign approach in my companion blog, Process Improvement Approaches: Which One Works Best? And consider process improvement training so your team can successfully redesign processes to get results both now and after the new software install.
Great question! Let me know what you think of this approach, as well as your position on sorbet as dessert! Lee
Many leaders within service industries invest a ton of time, money, and resources into process improvement projects. Leaders from community foundations, government agencies, nonprofits, and mortgage lenders – to name a few – work hard to improve outcomes. Unfortunately, national research shows that more than half have failed. Keep reading to learn how to avoid being part of this statistic.
These leaders take on process improvement projects with good intentions as they try to overcome the pain points they are experiencing. They are expected to do more with the same resources. Some are experiencing errors or gaps in their service to customers. And quite frankly, many employees are simply burned out, resulting in turnover. Process improvement is a great tool to help leaders of complex services organizations turn this pain into achievable outcomes.
In its simplest form, process improvement is defined as a change in work steps to improve outcomes. When an end-to-end operations process is looked at with an eye for dramatic improvement, it becomes a process improvement project. When a more complex process is included in the project, there is a larger potential for improved results. Yet, process improvement projects are risky and frequently fail.
In a ProSci national survey of 150 process improvement projects, results show the majority failed. They found that when leaders rely only on traditional approaches and tools like mapping and brainstorming, the majority of times process improvement projects do not succeed. The lack of proven tools and approaches was a major reason for failure.
If you see pain points you want to solve, process improvement works. When planning to invest in process improvement, you NEED it to succeed.
We’ll illustrate this through our experience with community foundations.
1. Utilize proven tools.
Foundations consistently use tools that accomplish the results they need. For example, foundations use proven granting practices to create an outcome in the community. Similarly, process improvement projects succeed when the proven process improvement tools are used.
2. Train your team on these proven tools.
Community foundations need trained resources for key tasks to ensure they are successful. For example, only a trained accountant is hired for an accounting role. The same is true for process improvement skills. Employees will successfully see their process improvement opportunities and solve foundation pain points when they are trained in the proven process improvement tools.
3. Build process muscle through coaching to achieve success.
Everyday foundation leaders mentor employees until they round that learning curve. Accountants are only allowed to work independently when they prove they are ready. The same is true with the team’s new process improvement skills. As a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, I needed to submit two successful projects before I was certified. Early on, I had several projects that were not successful which could not be submitted.
Process improvement best practices show the need for employees to use these skills at least twice before they are successful and independent in getting great results. Therefore, leveraging a process improvement coach makes your learners successful the first time. They are coached to build process skills, while strengthening their process muscles. – resulting in success and independence.
Foundations have achieved impressive results by leveraging proven process improvement tools and approaches. Their employees were trained and coached to dramatically improve these outcomes.
Case Study: A chief financial officer at a large community foundation saw process improvement projects fail – swirling for months, dying out unfinished or not delivering results. Learn how their most recent improvement project recaptured over 60% of the team’s time and now deliver to the customer faster. Build Improvement Skill-and-Will.
At Innovation Process Design we are experts at helping teams successfully improve process and results. Your team can succeed too. Contact Lee Kuntz to talk about what you’re experiencing and how leaders have solved this pain.