Choosing the Right Improvement Projects 

by Tom McBride

Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.

Most business leaders realize that continual improvement is needed for an organization to be strong and vital. Unfortunately, improvement project choices are often made based on the “pain of the moment”, personal agendas or other biases. Given limited resources, it is important to select the “critical few” improvements that will provide the greatest organizational benefit.

Good News! There is a simple structured process to help identify and prioritize your “critical few”.   More sophisticated models exist, but the following thought process will serve many organizations well.

  1. Review strategic goals.  What needs to be achieved or improved? What 3-5 results are critical to the success of your business?
  2. Define key processes.  A key process contains a series of cross-departmental steps required to produce a product or service.  For example, three key processes could be the sets of steps required to provide new equipment, repair parts, and aftermarket repair services.
  3. List major sub-processes.  Draw a simple diagram for each key process that shows its major steps.  Avoid going into fine detail.  Examples of sub-processes might include quote preparation, order entry, procurement, scheduling, packaging, and shipping.
  4. Define supporting processes.  These usually support the organization as a whole  and may not be part of any key process.   Hiring, invoicing, and training are examples.
  5. Create measurements. Choose 1-2 measurements that would monitor performance of each sub- and supporting process, considering both effectiveness and efficiency.   Examples: average time a customer waits in line, or the number of customer complaints last month.
  6. Rate performance.  Use a 1-5 scale, with “1” being terrible and “5” being world-class to rate each sub- or supporting process, based on measurements created in step #5.  Existing information may be sufficient to rate some processes, but for others you may need to collect data for a period of time (maybe 30 days).  Poorly performing processes will be your candidates for improvement.
  7. Determine impact on your strategic goals (step #1).  Evaluate the impact of fixing each candidate, and assign an “impact score” of 1-5 with “5” being the most beneficial. 
  8. Rate the cost and difficulty to “fix” each candidate.  Assign a “5” for quick, low cost improvements and a “1” to difficult, costly fixes.
  9. Calculate an “opportunity” score for each candidate by multiplying the impact and cost/difficulty scores from steps 7 and 8.  
  10. Choose 2-3 processes having the higher “opportunity” scores and develop improvement initiatives within these. Resist any temptation to choose only high-impact candidates, since some with lesser impact may be more worthy projects.

Using this process will help the management team analyze and better understand the organization's opportunities for improvement.