Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Perils and Lessons of Process Improvement

Sometime ago I wrote about a project my coworkers and I were working on. It was part of a process improvement task we took on because we were fed up with the old process. It's been nearly two months since that time and the experience has provided us with an insightful look about the challenges and rewards of group work. 

Let me start with a confession: it has been one trying project. If you remember, we had decided to transition some accounts into an existing database as a backup to the new system that's rolling out in the near future. We're uncertain as to how the new process will work and so we wanted something on standby just in case our concerns were warranted. We started off excited. We planned the implementation process, met with colleagues for some training and were certain the accounts would be up and running in no time. Wrong. Two months later and we're still trying to figure things out. Remember, this is our baby so we're doing this alone: no IT support or expert guidance. Just three competitive women trying to streamline and prove their worth. And of course, eliminate the inefficiencies. Only problem is, there were plenty of inefficiencies trying to get this thing going. We loaded, unloaded, copied and pasted more times than I care to recall, navigated, reworked, and then redid the process all over again. I'm glad to say that we now have all but two accounts uploaded and ready for balancing. Are we excited? Eh. There's still work to do, but here's what we've learned: 

- You can accomplish just about anything you want to if you put your heart and soul into it. But you must accept failure and you must keep trying to see the actual rewards. My colleagues and I are so technologically challenged it should be a crime to have us sit behind a computer screen, but we've used basic principles and common sense to get that database to work for us. 

- Communication is the key to success. There were moments where accusations were made and motives questioned, but by speaking up we worked it out. What we learned is that stress is as much a culprit to misunderstanding as inefficiency is to delaying deadlines. 

- Work relationships are no different from personal ones, and the ones that succeed are those navigated by gratitude and optimism. There were days when I wanted to walk away from the whole project - to quit - but I distanced myself during those times and promised myself to start over with a fresh perspective. We wouldn't have made it through without the gestures of appreciation that kept us going when we really didn't want to. Remembering to thank each other and focus on accomplishments helped us stay on task. 

- Know thyself well. Although this was an opportunity to build our skills, we were working with time constraints. It was not the time to assume learn a whole new process. Know your strengths and accept those tasks that will help you contribute to the process. The learning comes later, when you meet to discuss and analyze the process.  

Now we're at the second phase of the project and there's a sense of relief, although we are not finished. Once we overcome this period, we will start to fully appreciate the commitment and heartache. Most importantly, we will value our resolve and come away more knowledgeable and capable. 

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