Innovation Systems/Processes/Improvement

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review echoed the theory we have in our Process Advantage® product, and I wondered if it rings true for you. The article is titled “Innovate Without Diluting Your Core Idea” by Jon Campbell, and the premise is that an innovative idea loses much of its luster as the organization works to implement it.

The reason? Each department that handles the innovation leaves its fingerprints and smudges as it moves through implementation until the original idea scarcely resembles the final outcome. The author argues that a successful implementation must include 4 key characteristics. We agree, and further, see real value in looking at the 4 characteristics as essential to a process improvement project. Here’s our take on the author’s 4 points using the perspective of implementing a change initiative or process improvement.

Keys to Process Innovation Success

  1. create a teamForm a tight-knit team that is multifunctional and works on the project from conception to launch.  A process improvement project is successful when it is started and finished by a team of staff who regularly work in the process itself, not leadership or consultants. The team identifies the problems, innovates to create a new process, implements the process and trains other staff in the changes.
  2. Keep the voice of the customer represented throughout. One of the first steps in a process improvement project is using customer data to identify problems with how the customer is being served. What are the error rates, satisfaction scores, turnaround times, etc.  Using customer data is the key to creating a sound new process. If the customer is not better served in the end, the process has not fully been improved.
  3. Keep key decision-makers informed. Actually, in process improvement, success goes beyond just keeping leadership informed to assuring that leadership supports the project and executes on the changes needed, e.g. changes in jobs, renovations, equipment, policy, etc.  This is vital for two reasons: leadership may have been the original architects of the processes that are being changed and can feel invalidated by the proposed new design. This can result in lackluster support at best, passive resistance at the worst, and can easily kill the project.  Secondly, there will be resistance to the changes from somewhere in the organization and leadership enthusiasm for the project will be vital to overcoming that resistance to change.
  4. Work with prototypes. One of the key pieces of process improvement is the ability to run a PDSA cycle on it.  PDSA stands for Plan-Do-Study-Act.  When the new process is designed and ready for implementation, rolling out a test phase on a smaller scale allows for tweaks and revisions that buoy the success of the process improvement.  Work the new process on a small scale first, perfect it, and then implement for greater success.

Corporate culture as the by-product

The article does not talk about a huge by-product of innovative process improvement work in organizations, namely, a positive shift in the corporate culture.  Silos or lack of cooperation between departments is a major source of under performance.  Getting cross-disciplinary teams to appreciate one another’s work/roles, to understand their inter-dependence and then to define an innovative improvement to performance has lasting impacts on performance, employee satisfaction, and the overall corporate culture.

More essentials for innovative, successful change

For more on the essential elements of a process improvement project, visit our library article on the 14 keys to change.