How to Introduce Process Improvements Successfully

puzzleDoes your team seem to be allergic to process?  Have you been trying to implement project management best practices and meeting resistance?

If so, have you addressed your team’s inherent questions, like “How will this make my life better?” and “Is that improvement enough to merit the hassle of changing?”  Have you explained how this will benefit your business?  Do they believe you?

Where is the motivation for improvement coming from?  Is it a company-wide initiative, or are you acting on your own initiative?  Your approach will differ somewhat depending on the motivation.

In any case, if you lead with “Here’s the new process we all need to adopt”, you’re bound to meet resistance.  Cast yourself in the role of problem solver rather than process maven.

Here’s how:

How to Introduce Company-wide Initiatives Successfully
You’ve explained how the new processes will benefit the company, you’ve documented them thoroughly, you’ve trained everyone: yet still you’re facing resistance.  What’s happening?

Put your problem solver hat on.  Talk to the people who are resisting.  Ask them about their concerns.  Find out if they believe in the business benefit.  Find out if they believe this will benefit them.  And when they tell you, really listen.  Don’t use this information merely as a starting point to argue why you’re right.  Don’t fall back on “because the execs said so”, unless you absolutely have to.

Think about what they’ve said.  Can you address their concerns?  If you think you already have, ask them why they don’t think so.  Make sure you’re really clear on where they’re coming from.  Ask them if they agree the purported business benefit would be a good thing.  Ask them if they have any other ideas to achieve it.

This approach has several benefits.  First, people who have been heard are much more likely to listen.  Rather than focusing their energy on blanket opposition, they may be more willing to accept some aspects of the process.  Second, pooling your collective knowledge is a good thing.  They may raise some real problems that, if you can solve together, will make your company more likely to reach its goals.

For more support on this topic, check out the Harvard Negotiation Project‘s book, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In“, by Fisher and Ury.

How to Introduce Team Initiatives Successfully
This is both easier and harder than rolling out company-wide initiatives.  Easier, because you are free to proceed however you (and your team) decide.  There are no prescribed processes to follow or timetables to meet.  Harder, because there is no top-down pressure to change.  You’re motivated: how do you get your team motivated?

First, talk with the team about how you do things today, and together, identify what isn’t working.  What causes the most pain for your team?

Work with your team to develop a list of process issues, then rate the importance of fixing them.  How bad is it today?  How much would it help if this were fixed?  There will be some obvious hot button issues, as well as some you decide are good enough for the time being.

Review your project management best practices, and note ones that can help solve the problems you’ve identified.  Bounce those potential solutions off the team to see how well they fit.  Use them as a starting point for brainstorming new solutions.

You’ll need team member input to act appropriately, and those that contribute will feel more invested in the effort.  At the same time, team involvement in deciding on and planning for change can be challenging.  Everyone’s busy (including you!), so it’s hard to find time to spend on this.

That’s often why improvement efforts stall out: more urgent priorities take over.  This can be frustrating, as the same old problems hang on.  If that’s happening to you, consider bringing in a consultant.  Not only will that free you up to focus on your immediate priorities, but a neutral, 3rd party perspective and expertise can help bring together a fractious team.

Build Trust with Incremental Improvements
If you can, roll out changes incrementally.  Pick an improvement that won’t take much effort to implement, but will give tangible results.  Resistance to small change will be lower, and positive results will encourage people to accept, and perhaps even welcome, further change.  Because the pace of change is slower, it will be easier to absorb without disrupting work in progress.

Well, I’ve come to the end of my week as guest blogger.  I hope the information I’ve shared has been useful to you.  If you’d like to discuss your particular situation in more detail, let’s talk.


Mia Whitfield, M.M.Whitfield Consulting


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