Trust the process.

You’re probably familiar with this mantra for continuous improvement that’s been echoed over the years as an ethos for everything from creating art to addiction recovery—and even as a sports slogan touted by fans of the Philadelphia 76ers

In truth, “trust the process” is applicable in almost every discipline, for every industry, and at every company that seeks long-term success. But what if that process is broken?  

It’s a common problem, and we’d venture to guess you’re here reading this process improvement guide because of it. A broken process is certainly not a small problem—it might have started small, but as you’ve begun to figure out how to fix it, you’ve unraveled a lot of other things that stand in the way of getting everything in a good place. 

Good news: Even if it’s a big problem now, these process improvement steps will help you start small with changes, leading to bigger results. Let’s get started. 

First, let’s put the “trust” in “trust the process.”

It can be incredibly difficult to talk openly about internal problems—especially with an external source. We understand that wholeheartedly, but we also know that, before you can “trust the process,” you have to build said trust. This is going to be the best (and really the only) way to openly assess the difficulties and uncover the surest path to success. 

“It’s all about relationships and building those. You have to have trust before people will tell you their problems.” – E. George Woodley, ASQ Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt Trainer & IASSC Certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt Practitioner

At Sensei On Demand, we’ve been consulting global industry leaders for decades. If we need to do a few things to make it easier to discuss sensitive topics with an “Open Kimono,” we’ll make it happen. We seek to gain clarity and understanding so that we can make changes for the better, without judgment. This approach, along with empathy, is the best way to get teams comfortable to discuss sensitive issues. Our first priority is to ensure that you’re comfortable enough to talk through issues and roadblocks. Then, we’ll take care of the rest. 

Now, without further ado: 

Your 8-Step Process Improvement Guide

Yes, even process improvement has its own process of sorts! Before kicking off your own journey, read through this step-by-step guide for an inside, expert approach to implementing process improvement plans

Step 1: Get leadership commitment.

Continuous improvement starts from the top and works its way down. Period. Without leadership commitment, it’ll be a fighting match, and you’ll never be fully successful at implementing. Why? Well, think of a ship—a vessel of that size doesn’t steer itself; it has a captain who then leads the crew. Leadership must be steering the ship and saying “let’s go north.”

PRO TIP: Struggling to get leadership support? Show the return on investment (ROI) to the people in charge. Lay it out: For every Green Belt project, the company will spend a certain amount and see a return of 10X! Be sure to do the real math for your leaders—show the numbers. Nothing gets leadership buy-in quite like proof of concept.  

For example, let’s say you spend $3,500 on one Green Belt’s training: They should bring a minimum return from their Green Belt Project of $25-75K. Now, let’s say the number is $25K. Not only did you get your training fee back, but you’ve saved a difference of $21,500—now that’s an amazing return on investment!

Step 2: Pick the right project.

The hardest word to get around in the English language? No. But when it comes to picking your project, it’s actually the magic word. That’s because knowing when to say “no” can help you say “yes” to the right projects. 

We recommend looking at organizational strategic initiatives before starting a project and making sure that the “levers” you’re going to pull are the right ones. For example, you should easily be able to collect data, as well as have it within your scope to be able to make changes for the better—you don’t want to waste time on things you can’t change.

PRO TIP: A lot of people will try to pick the people first, then the project. We don’t recommend that. By focusing on the problem and the project first, you’ll build the right team to tackle your most critical concerns instead of stacking a great team that’s not quite right for managing what you’re trying to accomplish.   

Step 3: Select your Black (and Green) Belts

Whether your belts are Green or Black, you want to select high performers who are trying to grow and develop. Other need-to-have traits include: taking pride and ownership in their work, having good people skills, and showing dedication to working through the methodology. We will teach them all the analytical and Lean Six Sigma tools needed to be successful.

Step 4: Appoint fully-dedicated Black Belts

Don’t overbook your Black Belts. For any project to go off without a hitch, you need dedicated Black Belts to ensure you see the ROI on the project. If your Black Belts have too many different priorities, you can’t bank on the savings return. Need assistance here? Let us augment your team! We have the expertise and talent to get you where you need to be.

Step 5: Enable Champion engagement

Champions are essential for helping your Belts eliminate obstacles. We often refer to them as the “superhero” of the project, as they smash through roadblocks so the team can make process improvements. You’ll want to look for these traits in your Champions:

  • Individuals who possess a basic understanding of process improvement. 
  • Individuals who know what to look for and how to ask the right questions. 
  • Individuals who have strong coaching skills and who are also coachable themselves. 

Step 6: Rely on Master Black Belt support

At some point, your team is going to need an expert. Without them, your project can get stuck among the tools and methodologies. Here, you have two options: You can either certify internally or hire externally. With a service like Sensei On Demand, you get access to experts with real-life experience to guide you.

PRO TIP: Don’t wait too long to get high-level Master Black Belt support. It’s essential to your success.

Step 7: Use organizational tools

The nuts and bolts of your project rely on organizational tools. Get set up for immediate success with Sensei On Demand. We have the community, the access to expertise, and the tools needed to execute. 

PRO TIP: Resources are the key to success—and we’ve got plenty of them! Rely on Sensei On Demand’s process tools, network, and community of experts to keep up with best practices and ensure your project results stay on track. 

Step 8: Build a sustainable infrastructure

Don’t let your hard work go to waste—sustain the effort! Put in place the essential elements: committee reviews, champion engagement, and expert support to ensure things are optimized and allow your organization to achieve constant momentum. If you’re truly committed to excellence, this last step is vital to ensure that the work is effective, long-lasting, and sustainable. 

Download: Deployment Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is process improvement?

A: In the simplest terms, process improvement is a methodology that’s used to make things work more efficiently. It involves identifying, analyzing, and improving existing processes in order to increase performance and improve the end experience for everyone involved.

Q: How do I get started with process improvement? 

A: If you’ve read through our blog and are interested in learning more about how Sensei On Demand can help guide your journey through process improvement, you’re in the right place! Our consulting and course offerings are for anyone who believes there’s a better way to do things—and who wants to make a change for the better. Contact us today to get started, or click here to learn more about how we guarantee success.

Q: How do I get leadership into the room? 

A: Leaders need insight into success metrics, such as ROI. Lay it out for them by showcasing early successes and communicating the amount they’ll save vs. the amount they’ll spend. Check out our case studies for some real-world examples of Sensei’s success. 

Q: What comes with a Sensei On Demand subscription? 

A: When you purchase a subscription, you’ll get access to a community of like-minded individuals with whom you can share ideas, best practices, tools, and templates, along with live coaching from Senseis with over 150 collective years of real-world experience implementing Continuous Improvement practices. 

Our on-demand microlearning modules will allow you to gain the skills and knowledge you need in a fun, engaging environment, and you’ll get knowledge checks and quizzes along the way to ensure you are mastering the required skills to make a change for the better. 

View our individual offerings here and our enterprise offerings here.

Key Takeaways 

It’s safe to say we covered a lot of information in this 8-Step Process Improvement Guide. In short, these main points are the key to unlocking process improvement

  1. Start with the project. Not the people. Just because you have the “perfect” team doesn’t mean their collective skillset will be the perfect fit. Pick the project first, then fill in the gaps with the right people from the start.  
  2. Get your Champions engaged early. They’re the superheroes that pave the way for your project’s success. Consider them to be your roadblock recovery team, and engage them as early as you can. 
  3. Don’t wait to have Master Black Belt support or organizational tools in place. High-level resources and support exist to ensure someone is there to deal with the “hard parts.” Not only have the experts been there, but they can turn a problem that could halt production for weeks into a thirty-minute problem-solving workshop. Reach out to Sensei On Demand and implement it early into your plan for the best results.   

Ready to trust the process for process improvement?

Continual improvements are key to eliminating the broken business processes that can cost your business time and money. Once you’ve got the essential elements for process improvement in place, it’s time to work through the problem all the way to success. 

As leaders with decades of experience in the continuous improvement industry, we’re here to help. Reach out to Sensei On Demand today for consulting, certification, tools, community, and more.  

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