Process innovation is very important in any organisation, because it is the way everything is produced from products and services to customer experience. Organisations should do more systematic process innovation to get the benefits that are available. To make process innovation happen properly it should be domain of all employees. This article looks into most effective ways of harnessing the power of process innovation.
Process innovation should always begin with a goal in mind. Traditionally, it is based on finding a solution to a problem. To my opinion, that is too late. The time to repair a roof is when the sun is shining, like John F. Kennedy said. The goal should be to have a process innovation culture build into the organisation, so that it will not be a one off project, but part of natural way of improving the organisation. If you can make all the employees to think that it is normal to think outside the box and try to make things better, then process innovation becomes much more common in the organisation. You can achieve this by making innovation as a core part of your leadership agenda and train most employees to innovate processes. Maybe you could even start every day with a discussion of process innovation and corporate culture that could support it until you get it in place?
The second important factor for harnessing the power of process innovation is not to be penalized for failures; this will only discourage the risk-taking needed for the next important process advancement. Best practices are easy to see and test, because everyone else is already using them. That will not bring competitive advantage or real process innovation. Focusing on best practises may lead to a situation, where a dramatic process innovation idea will lead other people to doubt whether it will work. You can test dramatic innovations to a point, but there will come a time, when it just needs to be tried and seen. Most of the times those innovations will succeed when well thought out, but sometimes they may also fail and that is something we need to cope with. It is more fruitful to focus on next practices, instead of best practices.
“I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
– Thomas Edison, father of mass production light bulbs.
A future orientation and outcome-based thinking are very beneficial to process innovation. It is unlikely to succeed, if no one invests time in getting better both with processes and innovation. Usually we are too busy with running our daily lives, leaving little time to grow as professionals and persons. We can only innovate ideas that are size of our thoughts, so what we need to do is to seek ways to expand our ways of thinking. One very powerful and practical technique is outcome-based thinking. If you focus on what is it that you want to achieve, then your mind will stay focused in the future and find ways to realize those aspirations. Everyone in your organization needs to have a clear grasp of where you need to go. That is how they know what has value and what is irrelevant. The question is that will some process innovation idea, if implemented, help move you closer to the outcomes you have specified?
Let’s take an example of process automation innovation, which is used by certain council in United Kingdom. The rubbish is collected in specific colour of bags, so that the rubbish collectors will know the recycling fee has been paid. Earlier those bags were sold from council offices, person to person. At some point they decided to automate part of that process. So, they installed machines next to the council doors, where you can choose the number of rubbish bags and pay for them. After you have paid for the bags, you will get a receipt that you need to take to the reception desk at council and someone from there will give you the bags. At the end of the day, the only automated part was the payment, but delivering the rubbish bags to the customers was still traditional person-to-person interaction. What do you think was the outcome the process optimisation people in that council were thinking about exactly?
To harness the power of process innovation, you should always begin with a goal in mind. That goal needs be to have a process innovation culture build into the organisation, so that it becomes domain of all, not just selected few. Crowdsourcing will work for process innovation, if you give most of the employees a chance to participate it. The second important factor for harnessing the power of process innovation is not to be penalized for failures. People need to have possibility to try new things and get proper, constructive feedback from those trials. Also, a future orientation and outcome-based thinking are crucial to process innovation. They will help you to think about and realize the outcomes you want to create through process innovation endeavours.
What tips could you share with us to harness the power of process innovation?
And maybe you could share with us your most interesting experiences?