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Sustaining Process Improvement

Previous articles in this series dealt with the challenges of identifying outdated and inefficient processes, the effects that suboptimal processes have on the profitability and competitive position of a company, as well as some of the tools that can be used to identify and improve those processes.  But what happens once you implement those improvements? 

This article will look at the importance of sustainability and how a company can sustain the process improvements they’ve achieved.

Post-Achievement Syndrome

Every implementation project is destined to go past the active phase and enter the phase of sustainability, by which time, all processes, systems, and behaviors have been brought into a desired final state.  The analysis has been performed and documented, method changes have been identified and implemented, tools have been deployed, skills have been aligned, training has been conducted, active management introduced, and savings and improvements brought to target levels.  After this hive of activity and challenge, it seems well-deserved to sit back and enjoy the results.  However, there is danger in succumbing to such post-achievement syndrome, and the price could be the reversal of some of the improvements.  

There are three routes that a company can take post-implementation; continue improving, maintain at the same level, or revert closer to the pre-improvement stage.  And with any process that has a human behaviour component, there is an inherent predisposition to revert to the old ways of operating, especially if the effects of the improvement haven’t yet become apparent.

The Steps to Sustainability

How then, can an organization sustain the improvements they’ve implemented?

At Trindent Consulting, sustainability is one of the values we deliver on all engagements.  With these four steps, we help our clients sustain and grow engagement achievements:

  1. Measure. Sustainability actually starts long before the engagement enters the sustainability stage.  It starts at the baseline evaluation done before improvements are even in place.  By establishing a rigorous practice of tracking and reporting all relevant KPI, as well as their impact on financial statements, a baseline is created to allow for precise measurement of implementation results and to control subsequent sustainability.
  2. Champion.  We create the position of Sustainability Manager at the beginning of a client engagement, and train that person rigorously on our approach.  Sustainability Managers, while being part of the client organization, effectively function as part of Trindent team for the duration of the engagement.   After implementation is complete, we leave the person with the responsibility of ensuring that results are sustained.   
  3. Include.  We make sure that front-line participants of the business process under improvement are involved in sustainability collaboration.  By involving staff, higher acceptance rates are realized, and the improvements become more likely to be sustained post-implementation.
  4. Audit.  Once the engagement is in sustainability mode, periodic audits are the best way of ensuring sustainability. Trindent Consulting always performs an audit six months after engagement completion.  

The Importance of Sustainability.

Sustainability is important for the same reasons that an improvement project is undertaken in the first place – the detrimental effects that inefficient processes can have on organization’s profitability and competitive advantage.  Changing these processes isn’t enough because even the most well-performed implementation loses its value if it can’t be sustained and fully adopted as the new normal.

In the next article in the series, we shall look at conducting audits on process improvement implementations.