To successfully sustain your process program over time, so that it develops in sync with your business operations and in line with the responsibilities of your workforce, you will need to periodically assess the program.
After all, business changes over time. Objectives change. Technologies change. People change. Your process program, being a reflection of your business activities then, should also be expected to change.
As discussed in "6. Active Feedback Mechanisms," earlier in this chapter, you can support this by setting into place a series of feedback mechanisms within your business units. These mechanisms give your people a path for making improvement suggestions over time. At the same time (as discussed earlier in "3. Participate"), you, your process teams, and your executive management have all been actively involved in monitoring the program and in assessing its effectiveness on a daily basis. The result is that your organization should be able to accumulate a good foundation of improvement information that can be used to refine program operations.
The balance to seek in refining your program comes with the frequency of updates. Continuous improvement is the governing theme in almost all process and quality management systems. But that doesn't mean constant change. In fact, one could argue that too much improvement can actually wreak more havoc than no improvement at all. Process programs are intended to help an organization achieve a degree of operational stability. And for this to be true, the program itself must achieve a degree of stability.
This brings us to the concept of strategic reassessment.
The idea here is that the organization should reassess its program at set strategic intervals. In well-designed systems, business success ties closely to process program success. To help keep the two in line, you and your process teams should plan to review the program in depth at certain defined intervals. And the organization as a whole should be aware of these intervals.
The frequency here naturally depends on the particulars of your program. In dynamic organizations in emerging markets, with new processes, the reassessment period could be as short as every six months. For more stable businesses, in mature industries, and using well-refined processes, the period might be every three years or so.
But in each case, the strategy is the same: to refresh the program as needed for its next cycle of productivity.
Chapter 3 looked at the steps you typically undertake to establish a process program within an organization. Some of those steps included establishing your process objectives, performing an analysis of existing business practices, and then creating and refining processes to better tie the practices to the objectives. These happen to be the same kinds of steps you'll take when you conduct a reassessment. It represents its own process improvement project, and so it should be treated as such, coordinated through the organization as both an executive and strategic effort.
In brief, there are 10 steps you usually follow when coordinating a reassessment of your program. Here they are:
Establish the reassessment period and scope, and communicate it to the organization.
Collect feedback and observations over time, positioning for reassessment.
Plan the reassessment activities.
Announce the reassessment initiative to impacted business groups.
Create improvement data review committees (as appropriate).
Create improvement teams as appropriate.
Conduct reassessment activities.
Analyze, validate, and prioritize assessment results.
Create improvement plans.
Implement improvement plans.
These steps will help you execute the reassessment in a smooth manner, and in a way that involves as many of your line people as practical. The push of this approach is to first establish the assessment interval. This will help orient people as to how often they can expect the program to change. This will steer them away from making frequent and willy-nilly recommendations, and focus their inputs where they will have the most impact. Next is the action to conscientiously collect and store feedback and observation improvement data over the time between intervals. Don't simply rely on the assessment period to find out what you might need to do. Reference all the data your people have been providing you. Then thoroughly plan the assessment activities. You want to have a solid pan here for two reasons. One, you'll no doubt have limited time to perform the assessment. Two, you'll want to coordinate assessment activities in a way that reaches the broadest groups of people while intruding on normal work duties as little as possible.
After that, you should appoint people inside the organization to participate in the assessment activities. You'll want groups to evaluate existing process improvement recommendations, and you'll want groups who can go out and investigate current activities across the organization.
Once the planned activities have been conducted, you should have the groups analyze, validate, and prioritize improvement opportunities according to their potential impact and their promise of positive influence on business activities. From this, you can begin to create improvement proposals that address specific ways in which the elements of your process program can be adjusted or refined to increase efficiencies.
After a review and a decision as to which improvements might work best for the organization at this point in time, you can move to implement the refinements.
For some, the effort of conducting periodic reassessments of your process program may seem like a major task. And in fact, it should be treated as a serious effort. It is certainly a significant and important task. But similar energies are spent on business infrastructures and regulatory positions all the time. Why shouldn't similar energies be spent on the program that guides what might be a major portion of the business?
The sustainability of any process program is one of the surest guarantors of success that a program can demonstrate. And effective sustainment comes from ensuring that your program retains its business relevance in the organization. This relevance links your program to productivity, to workplace efficiencies, and to acceptance by the work force. At the same time, it serves as one of the key controllable assets that drive achievement of business objectives. Given all this, periodic reassessment might well be considered as basic a practice as changing the oil in your car or replacing the filter in your air conditioner.