A Guide to Running Process Improvement Workshops

I run a lot of workshops these days – I find that they are the most efficient way of getting to the heart of processes and improving them. I’ve seen people spend months doing depth interviews with staff only to have projects shut down before they’ve even get near to identifying improvements. That’s tragic and very avoidable. What can be accomplished in a well structured workshop can eliminate weeks or even months of unnecessary activity. Here’s how to get it right.


A. Before You Start

  • Don’t waste time planning too much. Against my will I was once made to write a 25 page document on how to run some workshops – it delayed the project by 3 months. Workshops aren’t complicated so don’t make them so. Create a spreadsheet with all your workshops, times, rooms booked and attendees. That’s all you need – don’t overbake the cake.
  • Pick your workshop room carefully. Find the biggest room with the longest walls – you’ll need them!
  • Identify all staff involved with the process. It’s really important to get a cross section of staff that are involved end-to-end (that’s the customer experience of the process). You want staff that do the actual work – not managers or supervisors.
  • Create a slide pack to guide you through the workshop. It will help you focus on the key stages and will avoid you missing anything and looking like a plumb.
  • Buy materials. You’ll need lots of 3M super stickies and a big roll of good quality brown paper, some blu-tak and some market pens. A whiteboard and whiteboard pens can also be handy.
  • Pick the right attendees. It may sound warm and fuzzy to ask the business who they want to attend but chances are they’ll send you people who aren’t busy rather than the staff you really want. What you want are people who know the process but who want to make things better.
  • Explain to staff what process you are looking at and what you want to achieve. It will make them feel more comfortable. Let them know they’ll be needed as early as possible.
  • Have a spreadsheet ready to capture the process details and a scribe there to capture them. Your job is to focus on facilitation not typing!


B. The Day Before

  • Set up the room by sticking up 3 sheets of brown paper as long as you can along the wall.
  • Set up chairs so that they all face the brown paper rather than behind desks. This helps to make the session less formal and more interactive. Ensure that your projector screen is set up in a manner which makes it easy for them to pivot around and see.
  • DO NOT put any processes up on the wall! This limits their thinking!


C. On the day

  • Set the scene by talking about the scope of the process. Identify what outcomes the process has (from a customer point of view).
  • Identify the current process. Give each person a pack of sticky notes and individually ask them to write down their own interpretation of the process (no collaboration!) Merge all the individual processes together to create one agreed end-to-end process.
  • Probe, ask questions, identify missing tasks until you are comfortable that everything has been identified. Check that nothing has been missed. Get the scribe to document all the steps in the process. Gather task timings so that you can calculate cost per process before and after.
  • Tear it to shreds – encourage them to question everything and to rework the process with the focus on eliminating activities. If it can’t be eliminated, improve it. Get the scribe to document all potential improvements in an action plan. Coax, cajole, prod, suggest – but never tell them what they should do.


Take plenty of breaks, have a laugh, give them plenty of sugar, make jokes, do a silly dance – push them beyond their current scope of thinking – for that way the land of process innovation lies.


Courtesy to Craig Reid. This blog was originally published on The Process Ninja.



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By Craig Reid @ The Process Ninja | December 19, 2012

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