Structure for Success with Business Process Improvement


By Jeff Fielding, MA

Successful process improvement projects are a lot like hockey games. Ok, maybe not exactly. But like a team sport, success in the world of process improvement depends on having the right players or roles in place.

Whether you are going down one of the quality paths (like Total Quality Management, or Six Sigma) or an administrative process improvement approach, you face the same risk: putting lots of good work into analysing and building better business processes only to find that your solutions don’t embed as the “new normal” in the organization. And of course when a major organizational effort dies in the Petri dish it wastes valuable resources and fuels cynicism associated with being latest flavour of the month.

So, how do we avoid these things? Well, underlying the success of any process improvement exercise is effective project management and change management. And to help facilitate success on these fronts here are some key organizational roles that, if in place, will help your process improvement project avoid the dubious honour of becoming a bitter flavour of the month.

Project Management Team

Your project management team functions to clear strategic obstacles and ensure you have the necessary resources to be successful. They are also play a key role in giving the project legitimacy in the organization making the project work and implementation run as smoothly as possible. The Project Management Team should be comprised of senior level managers whose departments have a stake and role in the new improved process. For example if your project was focused on improving an aspect of your recruiting process, you would expect to see representation from HR, finance, and one or two key client departments – perhaps Operations and Marketing on the Project Management Team.

Process Owner:

The Process Owner is typically a mid to senior level manager who has accountability for the process that is under the magnifying glass. This individual must possess the authority to approve amendments and implement changes to the targeted process. This person probably chairs the Project Management Team and plays a key role in communicating information regarding the project to the Project Management Team, and in turn to the rest of the organization.

Process Improvement Team

This is the group that does the hard work around measuring, analysing, improving and championing the implementation the new process throughout the organization. This team should be comprised of people close to the process itself – meaning people who in their daily work interact with the process in various ways. Going back to our recruitment example, the Process Improvement Team might be comprised of key hiring managers, internal recruiters, recent hires (having been through the process), etc. You want as many “views” on the process as possible in this group. And of course, this team needs to be trained on the particular improvement or quality methodology that you are using.

Project Leader

This is the key project leadership role. Your project leader is both a project manager and a specialist in the improvement/quality tools that you are bringing to bear on the process. It is this person’s job to provide leadership to the Process Improvement Team, manage the project’s resources and timelines, and be the external face of the project to the rest of the organization. This person would also be a member of the Project Management Team. This person’s effectiveness is reflected directly in the success of the process improvement work.

Field Test Groups

Customer feedback, assumption validation, data collection and testing are central tenants of most process improvement and quality models. For this reason you need to have access to people and teams in the organization that can provide you with real-world feedback on your work. Your field test groups provide these checks to your team’s work. So in the case of a recruitment process improvement, you would access groups or individuals currently hiring, people who have been recently hired, possibly even prospective candidates to get feedback on your ideas and understanding of the process. The one thing to remember is that these folks already have busy! There will be a fine line between their interest in supporting a major organizational program and a sense that they are being asked to perform a second full time job.

As you can see, there is a critical human infrastructure required to ensure the success of a process improvement project in an organization. Not addressing these requirements risks jeopardizing the results of the work. And although it may at first seem like a lot of structure for a temporary project, it will ensure your analysis has the necessary inputs, that your assumptions along with your conclusions are tested and ultimately that your new and improved process stands the best chance of having a life of its own in your organization.

Jeff Fielding, CHRP candidate presented Practical Process Improvement for HR Professionals in Victoria on November 17. Jeff is the principal of Fielding Solutions – a fresh, boutique consulting firm that helps organizations improve customer experience, employee performance and business processes. For more information on other professional development sessions, please refer to BC HRMA’s online calendar.

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