Everything in business is a process, but very few processes are fully understood by the people working in them, and even fewer are truly optimised. The skills needed to objectively assess and improve processes range from basic management through sophisticated statistical modeling. There are literally hundreds of tools available and it’s picking the right one to use that’s one of the hardest things to get right.
So rather than worring about the tools you might pull out only once in a blur moon, let’s take a look at the five skills that are essential for all good process improvement practitioners. What you’ll notice about the top five is that they’re not technical, they’re not mathematical and they’re definitely not anything that even comes close to complex.
The five skills that great process improvement practitioners possess are:
1. People skills (think empathy and understanding)
2. The ability to move between low level detail and the big picture
3. Analytical thinking
5. A positive outlook
People skills are essential if you want to improve anything, because often it means changing the way people have been doing things for a long time. “It’s always worked like this” might be the biggest obstacle a Process Improvement Practitioner has to overcome and you can only do that by working with the people whose processes you are improving.
Ability to move between detail & big picture
When dealing with processes, it is important to see both the big picture and the small details. You could also say that you need to be both effective and efficient, meaning that you manage to do the right things and to do things right. Focusing on the outcome, on the big picture, is just as important as paying attention to the small details that affect it and a good practitioner will always keep both things in mind.
Seeing what process is in place and how it can be improved requires analytical thinking. Many of the steps in the process are often not obvious and without clear thoughts and ideas it is impossible to find the perfect solution to problems in the process chain. Analysing the process can be a difficult and cumbersome task and if you don’t have the right thought structure for it, the outcome will be less than ideal.
When trying to improve a process it is easy to create something that works perfectly on paper. But reality always deviates from theory and actually implementing the improved processes not only needs the ability to adapt it to the environment and the people who will use it (see above), but also a certain sense of pragmatism. Don’t strive for the theoretical ideal, work for the best you can accomplish in reality.
Process Improvement can be a dispiriting business. People do not want to change. Great ideas don’t work when confronted with reality. Overlooking one small detail means having to rework everything. It is important to retain a positive outlook through all of this, to keep seeing the glass as half-full and not half-empty. In the end the struggle will pay off, even if the hurdles seem insurmountable at times.
If a person brings these five skills to the table they are well on the way to becoming good Process Improvement Practitioners. Combine the top five with the technical tools and methodologies and you can substantially improve not just your processes, but your whole business.