Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Process Improvement Program by any other name would smell as sweet

There are a multitude of names given to process improvement programs. Some organizations like to use: Six Sigma, some use Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, Organizational Effectiveness, Process Improvement, Process Innovation, and Process Transformation to name a few.   Some organizations use lean six sigma but don’t call their experts Black Belts or Senseis; they may refer to them as “XYZ Process Expert Level 1”

While many organizations spend an inordinate amount time thinking of the best name of their programs or their experts, the names have little meaning when it comes to developing a good program that delivers results. That said, my personal prejudice is to use a program name that is more generic and does not reflect a specific methodology. For example you can see that my blog involves the term operational excellence. The problem with using program names such as “Lean” is that people immediately assume that all answers lie in that particular tool set and it does not take long to shoot holes in the methodology if it is applied like peanut butter to every problem.

Back to the “name does not matter” idea.  In order to deploy a solid process improvement program you must concentrate on changing behavior in order to create a desired culture.  You don’t change culture; you change behavior (I’ll cover this in more detail in another blog).  Most organizations don’t develop a culture-centric program but instead they develop a project-centric program. Try this experiment: Ask a CEO that has a process improvement program in place to tell you what the program does.  Most of the time they will tell you “ We have had great results, we have cost reduction projects, patient satisfaction projects….” and on and on about projects and project results.  Now ask that same question to the CEO of an organization that is a top performer; the answer you get will be much different.  They will say something like this “ Our program is helping us develop a culture of excellence so we can meet the challenge of the next decade and provide our employees with greater opportunities.” Do you get the difference?  Of course the top performer CEO has a program that is running projects but they understand WHY they are running projects. 

Now back to the “name issue”.  When an organization tells employees they are going to be a Lean Hospital or a Six Sigma Hospital they are missing the point.  Lean, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecards, and Theory of Constraints are methodologies and tools that help change behaviors but they are not by themselves the only drivers of culture change. These methodologies contain powerful tools and methods that can help an organization solve problems, improve processes, remove constraints, and create accountability but none of the by themselves are the “silver bullet” that creates a culture of continuous improvement. 

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