When discussing process management and improvement, I often talk about the concept of “random acts of improvement.” People, with good intentions, are off trying to make their part of the organization better, more efficient, simpler. But often these changes are done locally, in silos, without considering the end-to-end impact of the change.
Random acts of improvement rarely address the positive or negative effects the might have elsewhere. Further, people may spend time fixing something that is counter to the overall goals of the organization or distracts people and resources from the real issues that need to be addressed.
Improvement activities can be implemented without explicitly thinking about process. They can happen anywhere for any reason. Individuals think, “I can do this better,” and they do it. Managers say, “I’ve seen this done elsewhere; let’s do it that way.” A team brainstorms ideas for making something more useful to the group. They may be applying specific techniques like lean, Six Sigma, and continuous improvement, or they may just be changing something to make it better.
The risk of everyone pursuing his own improvement is that often, nobody is looking at the organizationwide processes that get the real work done—or the effect one small change may have elsewhere. When you overlay process management on top of random acts of improvement, you take out some of the randomness. When enterprisewide process management prioritizes improvement opportunities so they are aligned to your goals, you transform random improvement into strategic, process-based improvement.
A first step toward combating potential negative consequences from random acts is to encourage people to look beyond their borders before they make a change. Look upstream and downstream to reduce the potential of breaking something else along the chain. We should strive to avoid optimizing one part of the organization at the expense of others, or worse yet, the customer.
Establishing strong process management capabilities includes designing an approach to plan changes and avoid the negative outcomes of random acts of improvement. Process management should take a holistic look at all opportunities for improvement, align those against goals and needs, and then focus on what makes the most sense for the organization.
We don’t want to stifle people’s individual initiative, but rather channel it toward a collaborative approach to achieve stronger performance end-to-end. In APQC’s research, we have seen organizations that do this extremely well, but too often that is not the case.
It all starts with thinking globally and acting locally. Instead of being random, talk to others. Assess how one group’s actions tie into success at different junctures throughout the organization.
Let’s focus improvement on what’s important. Let’s not let random acts get in the way. Let’s cut clutter.
APQC is starting a best practices study called “Overcoming Organizational Resistance,” which will expand on this topic. Click here for further information or to participate.