Thursday, February 4, 2010

Process Improvement

In recent years, companies, especially those focused on manufacturing, have had a big push on for process improvement. This trend applies not only to the manufacturing arm, but also to the various business groups.

The company I work for is no exception. In mid-2008, my department was given the challenge to achieve "silver" status by November 2009. The company's process improvement plan was very specific in the various steps we would need to follow to get to our goal, and at the time, it seemed quite daunting.

We started out by examining the process by which we create technical documentation. The department had evolved over the years and there was a process most of the writers followed, but it wasn't documented.

As a group, we set out to document the various steps and identify areas where we were getting bogged down. It seemed redundant; we all knew the problem in getting documentation published on time was getting information from the various departments that would enable us to do so. We recognized that without a steady stream of input, documents were never going to be created.

The problem with process improvement when applied to business practice groups is that the suppliers are also the requestors. You can't force people to comply with deadlines and too much pressure can result in the opposite result. It's important to be tactful and not alienate the very people we rely upon.

The solution our group developed was a supplier scorecard. We created a spreadsheet listing all the open projects, the due dates, and the dates the information was due to us. This sheet "grades" the timeliness of the submissions as well as the quality of the information received. Each month, this document is distributed to the various stakeholders, bringing attention to situation and making department managers aware of the roadblocks we faced in getting this valuable input.

Although some of our suppliers were unhappy with their lack of follow-up being made public, we have found the process is working in that we are getting the input back a bit faster. We will be tracking this tool over the next 12 months and will be getting feedback on our next Market Feedback Analysis (MFA) due to launch in April.