Monday, July 20, 2009

Making it Happen

While it is possible to pontificate and theorize till the end of the millennium, at some point in time, the rubber has to hit the road and certain process improvement steps actually performed. The situation is not unlike those who read up on working out, watch YouTube videos on working out, buy exercise DVDs, talk about working out a lot but never actually work out. They obviously see no fitness improvements and the same is true of process improvement efforts that never actually make the improvement.

A degree of sympathy for this situation is understandable, however. After all, there are numerous challenges in the way of implementing process improvements which I have mentioned in previous posts. A major concern that all stakeholders have with process improvement efforts is the fear that the improvement may end up causing more trouble than benefit. This is particularly true of IT process improvement endeavors that attempt to make significant changes in a short time or the “big bang” style of improvement. I, personally, usually advocate a phased, iterative approach to most organizations. This way, the benefits while not staggering are visible and the risks suitable diminished. The situation is mostly psychological as when management and staff see small changes making a difference, they are more open to the larger improvement efforts and a cascading effect of improvement kicks in. However, all this only happens only when a start is made.

The major shift in paradigm for most organizations now is to go from a department oriented approach to a process oriented approach. However, this involves major changes, upheavals and most importantly the potential disruption of everyday activities that could result in the inability to meet customer targets. The mistake that is usually made is that a proper preparation and accommodation for making process improvement changes is never adequately made. The erroneous expectation is that the IT department can perform and deliver in spite of all the changes and upheaval taking place all around. This is something like expecting your mood to be the same even though the in-laws have showed up to visit.

While it would be great if a large improvement could be easily be made, the reality of the situation usually is that improvements have to be made in small increments. This is because of the aforementioned problems and the fact that people generally have a psychological block towards change and deviation from the status quo. Over and above this, extra staff members have to be hired, proper training doled out and adjustments to the workload and time lines made. In short, the matter has to be looked at from all angles and planned properly. You can’t suddenly decide to implement a process improvement effort after getting charged up attending an ITIL or Six Sigma seminar. The motivation after these kind of events should spark a planning effort for improvement and not the full fledged improvement itself.

On the other hand, with competition as intense as it is, continuous improvement is no longer an option or a luxury. It is a basic necessity and should be included as part of the organization right from the organization’s inception. Therefore, at some point organizations have to make the jump into the water.

Sooner or later, improvement efforts will have to be made. The question is how open and prepared will organizations be to make the efforts. Those that have understood the importance of continuous improvement will reap the benefits while those who attempt to make changes at the last minute will struggle for survival.

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