Process Improvement: Start Where You Are


I had lunch with a friend-of-a-friend today. She's considering moving to a process improvement position. I suggested she not move from a technical lead to a process improvement position — I don't trust staff positions in this not-yet-robust economy. So I asked her why not do process improvement where she is, in her circle of influence? I suggested these possibilities:

  • Start a web page (or a blog, but I think she wants to keep these issues private to the organization). Every time she and/or her team do something that improves the current state, note it on the web page.
  • Offer the page to her colleagues, “This worked for me. If it works for you, let me know. If you improve it, let me know that too.”
  • Note privately to her manager when something is broken, and the cost to her project. This isn't whining, it's explaining why it took three days to find the sources instead of three minutes.

I also suggested that she consider a management position. I firmly believe that it's a manager's job to understand his or her group's process and to recognize when that process needs improvement. It's not clear to me that a large initiative from the top down works — except to create process cynics. I've seen process improvement work when each manager (or in this case, technical lead) looks at his or her group's work and starts to improve locally, offering those suggestions to the rest of the organization. Then, when the managers work together, process improvement happens as part of the organization's business.

Managers have a responsibility to deliver results and to continually increase capacity. One technique for increasing capacity is to improve their group's process. But process improvement doesn't have to be (and often isn't successful when it's) initiated from the top of the organizaiton down. Start where you are and grab those low-hanging process improvement fruits. You'll be miles ahead of the managers who aren't paying attention to their group's process.

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