Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Process Improvement for Nonprofits – Part 3: “Aha! Moments”

Step 3: Identify Options for Improvement: “Where can we work differently?”

When consulting once with a government employee, I asked if he thought there were any tasks that did not make sense to him in his work. He told me a story. “See, we had this form...” he began.

The form was a compliance checklist designed to walk the staff through marking off each compliance point. OK, I thought. Seems logical. The employees mark off each item, initial and date the form to confirm the check has been performed. I looked back at him somewhat puzzled. “The very last check box was the one that made me question my supervisor. 'Why are we even doing this?'”

The final check-off point on the form read:
“[] This form has been completed then shredded. Date:______ By:______”

Hopefully, none of your processes, checklists or tasks are so inane, but do not assume that is the case. I am sure that compliance checklist item made sense to someone at some point, but no one could identify its source.

Look for ways to eliminate unnecessary tasks. Can more work be done by a person while they are already working on another step? Just because it has always been done a certain way by people in certain job descriptions does not mean it still makes the most sense. A lot of lawyers and business executives now type their own documents, for example, without feeling they have been demoted. They prefer the efficiency of getting the letter completed and mailed in one process rather than several back-and-forth sessions with their support staff (who are now freed up to do other tasks).

When you work through this analysis, pay particular attention to those moments when you feel like saying “aha! So THAT’S why we do it that way!” If the reason is not clear to you, it probably is not clear to others. Once you identify why a task is performed a certain way, you can then evaluate whether the reason still exists and, if so, whether the solution still makes sense.

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