Internal Improvement Quality Systems-Process-Improvement

We are beginning a short series of posts on fine tuning the internal workings of your organization, primarily the systems and the policies behind them. We worked with Bill Dann and Jen Jarvis to create the series as they are the initiators of much of this work within PGS. Our series covers the topic from 5 angles:

  1. Defining systems or processes
  2. Outlining keys for sound policy to support your systems
  3. Improving and fixing established systems
  4. Clearly communicating changes to systems and policies so that the changes stick
  5. Creating an organizational culture that supports all the above

In preparation for the series, take a few minutes and think about your organization. What are the persistent issues that refuse to be resolved? Where is there waste? What is done differently in the organization depending on who is doing it? Put together a short list of the top contenders for needing improvement, whether policy or system, and see if you can’t apply what we will be sharing over the next several posts to your unique situation.

Got some ideas? Then we will move on to the first topic: clearly defining the systems in your organization.

A system in an organization is a set of activities laid out as a series of steps that will accomplish a specific goal. Each organization is made up of a multitude of systems from the simple – how to sort and distribute the mail, to the more complex – how to onboard and train a new staff member.

Establishing clear systems helps an organization in many ways.  Here are just a few:

  • Simplifies training on how to do a particular task
  • Clarifies the steps so that different people doing the same job will get the same result
  • Eliminates waste and redundant steps
  • Improves quality

So how do you go about defining a set of clear systems in your organization? Most organizations have many systems loosely defined, a few clearly laid out, and a few that have no definition at all. So to begin the process for your organization or department, identify the key systems you need to create and/or clarify, then prioritize them. Ask which systems create the most conflict or confusion in your organization, which are the biggest causal factor of problems, questions or waste? Tackle these problem systems first.

For each system, next determine what you want and need out of the system, i.e. what does it accomplish or what is its product. Clearly defining the end result of a system helps to not only design the system, but also enables those working in it to know when they have success. Without a clear product, you create uncertainty for those working in the system.

standardizing systemsAfter identifying the end result of a system, build a flowchart to get you there (for more on flowcharts, click here). The flowchart is the series of steps to accomplish the same result every time. Getting the flowchart in place allows you to also identify and eliminate waste and duplicated efforts, and to look at processes that feed into the system you are designing, identifying if those processes need to be stabilized as well. After the flowchart is in place, you can identify and build the tools needed to support the process.

Here is an example.  Organization X was growing and had many new employees coming on over the next several months. In looking at all the systems needed for success of the new staff, the one that rose to the top was HR’s system to effectively on-board the employees. First step done – a priority system was chosen. Next, the HR team defined what was needed out of the on-boarding system. They defined their product as “new hires fully oriented and ready to be trained in their department on their unique responsibilities”.   With the end result in mind, HR effectively broke down the on-boarding system into a series of steps, then mapped them out from the initial hiring decision through to the employee ready to begin working in his/her department.  The steps included reviewing the HR policies, giving a tour of the facility and setting them up in the payroll system.  By mapping the system, HR also identified the necessary processes that fed into the new employee being ready to go, like Purchasing’s system to acquire a computer and office equipment for new staff.

By outlining the on-boarding system and its product, HR identified all that was needed to successfully bring on new staff.  Moving step by step through the system, HR gathered or created the necessary tools, documents and flowcharts for each piece of orientation to go smoothly.  The completed system gave HR certainty that each new hire would receive the same information and that they all would be able to move into their new departments with a clear understanding of the organization and their role in it. That certainty was felt by the new hires when they came to work. Mapping the system also helped other departments in the organization to know and do what was needed to support the on-boarding system and new hires.  There was a clear need for the system. It was well defined and organized, and all involved committed to following the process.

Creating clear systems is an important part of setting your organization up for success, eliminating waste, optimizing resources, etc. Identify a system in your organization that is causing problems or simply isn’t clear, then define its product, outline its steps, build the needed tools, and train those working in the system on the clarified process.

Next up in our series, creating the sound policy that goes hand in hand with your systems.