Process improvement is an essential part of a manager’s job.

I believe managers should be spending about 60% of their time talking to people, growing their talented individuals and cultivating themselves. The other 40% of their time should be spent improving the system.

Most managers do neither and they wonder why good people leave and the workplace doesn’t get better. It takes a certain sort of person to enjoy processes (I’m weird).

But the words “Process” and “System” are a turn off for many people, managers or not.

Many people won’t know what is meant by process or system. Many people will run a mile when they hear those words.

To get people interested in this topic it’s sometimes essential to change the way you talk about them.

Here’s how I run a Process Mapping session with some ideas about how it runs, some words I use and how to engage people in the meeting.

When you’re running a Process/Value Stream Mapping Session be aware most people find it boring. But it can be more engaging if you describe this type of session as a “discovery” session.

Instead of mapping, we’re going to discover how our “work flows”, who does what and whether we all agree it flows in the same way.

To find this out we’re going to “staple” ourselves to a work item and then “picture” this on a white-board, usually using post-it notes.

We’re going to “snapshot” this work flow in a tool of some kind (or even a photo in the wiki) so we can “talk / discuss / communicate” about it.

Then we’re going to “upgrade / level up” how we do things to make them better.

And we always make them better for the “customer“. Always.

This is a key point to remind people:

We’re not improving the process if it makes it worse for our customers

And although this simplification of language may annoy the purists, it’s often essential to engage the very people who can help improve the process. I’d rather be running a “Discovery” session with people who are bought in and engaged than a “Value Stream Mapping” session with people who are bored.

Of course, there is an art and skill to running these sessions – and that needs deep learning and practice. But there’s little point in having those skills if no-one listens.

To support all of this though you need to make sure the following happens:

  • You have enough time. Discovery sessions alone can take hours. Book multiple sessions.
  • You have the right people in the room. You may be surprised how wide reaching some processes are, so be sure to include all those who are touched by the process – they will have input.
  • You have food. Food makes these sessions better.
  • You keep the language simple. Unless of course you are with others who understand your jargon.

Process improvement is about capturing the process, collectively agreeing the current process, improving what can be (for the customer) and communicating this to the wider team/business.

My experience shows that using simple language is always, always, always, more engaging.