Improvements to our processes are run as individual projects through our Process Excellence (PE) department. Each project has a Champion, a Process Manager (team lead) and team members. The Champion provides direction to the team, breaks down any barriers and helps the project reach the finish line. The Process Manager is a similar role as a project manager, except they apply process improvement tools, in addition to guiding the project through the various milestones. Our team members are the subject matter experts and help the team understand the opportunity for improvement and assist in identifying and testing the most appropriate solution.
We also have a “Coach” on our teams. Murray, our coach through Air Academy Associates, visited us in June to review our 2010 PE projects. As our “Coach” he encourages us to step back and review our project progress. The “Coach” asks some important questions like:
- What are we trying to improve? PE projects focus on collecting data to make sure we understand the root cause of the issue.
- What are we going to measure? What is our metric – cycle time, re-work, cost?
- How do we know if we have made an improvement? The solution we implement is validated as a significant improvement, through a change in the above data.
Sometimes the teams can get caught up in “analysis paralysis” - spending too much time collecting and analyzing data. Too much data can start to skew/complicate the direction of the project. Air Academy has taught us that the data is important, but more important are the conversations we hold about what that data means to our project.
What I found most valuable during this last coaching session was the process of confirming that each project is still working towards the original project objective. Sometimes we were and sometimes we were not. After collecting data to verify what we believe is the opportunity, often times we realize it is not what we originally thought and we have to change our improvement goals. This exercise ensures the projects focus on the improvements with the most value to the credit union, our staff and our members.
If you have an improvement opportunity in your organization, try collecting data – sometimes it is hard numbers and other times it is a matter of speaking to the end users of the process. You can also use an outsider’s view (like an employee from a different department) of a process to find improvement opportunities. Sometimes we are so accustomed to the way we work, we don’t see the improvements staring us right in the face! Challenge yourselves when you catch yourself referencing anecdotal information to identify an opportunity or improvement – you might be surprised at what the data shows you!