Continuous Improvement: Process & Perspective
With more focus on organizational health — an organization’s capacity to provide a principle-centered, data-based, cost-effective growth — more enterprises are moving to performance-based cultures by collecting and studying key performance metrics. These metrics are often adapted to suit and measure the efficiency of existing business processes, allowing productivity to inch forward by doing what is currently being done, marginally better. While continuous improvement is important to organizations of all sizes, the idea of process improvement may not always make the most sense.
This realization came while reviewing Scrum, an agile framework that enables one to address complex business problems efficiently and creatively through User Stories. These are short and simple descriptions of a potential feature explained from the perspective of the person who desires a new capability, usually a user or customer of the system. In doing so, Scrum integrates these stories through a top-down approach, understanding end-user desires, then building a plan to address those desires. Typically User Stories following the template of: As a < type of user >, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >. This format keeps the focus on the user, regardless of cost.
While dramatic process changes are not always realistic and are constrained by implementation costs and change-fatigue — there is wisdom to be found from User Stories when attempting to increase organizational health.
Metrics are invaluable to understanding current processes and where improvements can be made. However, while using metrics, enterprises must also continually evaluate processes as a whole, in the same way that User Stories aim to. A regular revisit of processes allows organizations to understand and be aware of various approaches to achieve a goal, versus continuous redesign of a legacy process. Although too many process changes do not make sense, being aware of all approaches will be a ‘knowledge option’ of sorts that can be leveraged if business conditions or technology changes.
A Fortune 500 client in the wholesaler sector recently displayed the value of process redesign as opposed to only process improvement. The client, hoping to better understand the performance of their customer service agents, originally incorporated metrics and regular evaluation. Despite this, the program did not reach the standard the organization had set for itself, leading them to evaluate the process as a whole versus just process improvement. The organization started from guest experiences and desires, then ultimately developed an evaluation system that measured and scored agents based on achieving those desires. Although change is rarely easy, with a well-planned transition the client was able to better serve guests and achieve higher satisfaction results.
Many practices such as User Stories can feel rigid and unproductive, however, integrating pieces of frameworks, such as Scrum, can help organizations find the delicate balance between tunnel vision by using legacy practices, and unnecessary change. This will always bring the focus to the customer and help organizations evaluate what it will take to keep adding value.
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