Improve Your Marketing Process
Once you’ve determined process improvement is necessary to be competitive, how to improve processes (and which processes to improve) becomes a subject of discussion.
This debate has raged from the early days of process improvement in the manufacturing arena. Most early approaches focused on techniques. The idea being that if you learned the correct technique, you could improve your process. Techniques including TQM, 6-Sigma, Constraint Analysis and Lean Manufacturing (now called Lean Thinking) have all been the “technique” to learn at some point in time.
This technique-driven mindset resulted in the ultimate technique, re-engineering, in the 1990s. Experienced manufacturing companies (and service companies as well) have learned that no single technique is the salvation. The appropriate application of each technique framed within an overarching process improvement management methodology is what actually works. A properly constructed process improvement management methodology uses each of these tools (and several others) at the appropriate points to achieve continuous improvement.
The other key lesson from the re-engineering debacle of the 1990s is that process improvement must be executed from the customer’s viewpoint. An improved process is, by definition, one that serves the customer more effectively and efficiently.
In our experience working with numerous manufacturing, professional services, and distribution companies, two distinct approaches have been used to deploy process improvement management within companies:
- Where the approach used is based primarily on a tool, a training-based approach is used. That is, the process improvement team members are trained to use the tool (TQM, 6-sigma, lean, etc.), and then are tasked to deploy that tool to improve a process. This method usually requires in-process support from outside experts to assure the tool is being used correctly. This also allows the outside experts to tailor the next round of training to address shortcomings or next steps for the trainees.
- The alternative approach is based on using process-improvement management methodology on identified processes. That is, rather than be trained in the use of a tool, the process improvement team members are trained in process improvement management. This includes learning to use the appropriate tools for process improvement at the correct time. This approach is usually not “classroom training” driven, but rather “on-the-job training” driven. The process improvement teams are coached on a regular basis and work on improving real processes. This requires them to also learn to identify which process improvement tool is most useful in any given situation.
Both of these methods work. However, based on over 20 years of real-world experience applying both approaches in manufacturing, service, and healthcare environments, we have found that for companies whose process maturity level is still focused on reacting to problems or just beginning to identify a systematic approach, learning process improvement management works best to achieve faster and longer-term results. Once an organization is skilled in this tactic, advanced training in certain methods (6-sigma, lean, constraint theory, etc.) becomes the preferred approach to continue refined improvements.
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