Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Process Improvement for Nonprofits – Part 7: Monitor Test Results

To recap where we are in this series on Process Improvement for Nonprofits, previous posts have covered six of the nine steps I outlined in the first segment:

Step 1: Diagnosis/Assessment: “What is happening now?” “Exactly how do we do everything that we do?”
Step 2: Analyze Workflow: “Is this the best way we can operate?” “Do we need to do any parts of our work better/cheaper/faster/with fewer people?”
Step 3: Identify Options for Improvement: “Where can we work differently?”
Step 4: Design new processes or steps: “What will work for our organization?”
Step 5: Gather feedback: “Is this in line with the organization’s mission?” “Does it actually improve the way we work?”
Step 6: Test the new workflow: “Does it work in the real world?”

Now, in Step 7, you have to pay attention. With your realistic test plans in place and a standardized reporting system for participants to record results, you should be free to observe other aspects of the new process in test operation.

Here, the key questions are “Are we getting the results we sought in this test?” and “If not, why not?” After you account for a reasonable learning curve and the challenges among staff who like to keep doing things “the way we always have,” can you tell whether the change make a positive difference? If it does, is the benefit going to outweigh the efforts to implement the change over time? Have you communicated the vision of this better end result to everyone?

Pay attention to all feedback you get from testers, not just comments and scores on your feedback form. What do they say to each other? What do you hear at the water cooler? Does their body language tell you anything?

For most process changes, your staff will not care much which way you want them to do the work. They only want clear instructions so they can do it correctly. For some, however, you may find an almost religious devotion to the old method. No one knows why they ever started doing that task a certain way, but it has become a fiber in their coats of many colors and provides security and identity. The more credibility you develop throughout the entire exercise, the more likely you will be able to win these types over without a compliance mandate that squelches candid feedback and input on the next similar initiative.

Some habits have a lot of traction and will require deliberate efforts by your staff to change. Make sure the new process has benefits for them and use the benefits as carrots where possible. For example, to get employees to move from a paper-based review process to an online electronic review, make sure the online version is at least as easy as on paper, then tout the added benefits of less clutter, less paper, reduced costs and faster response times for corrections. You can even toss in the “green” label if it applies! It may require a big-picture perspective, because sometimes the level of effort shifts up or down the line and may impact one person more than another. If your staff can be mindful of the "trees" and the "forrest," it will help this entire process.

The next post in this series will discuss the “post-mortem” review.

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