Process Improvement: From Breakdown to Breakthrough

As part of a process improvement effort a client wanted to initiate, I began interviewing internal stakeholders–the ones who received the services. I was stunned to hear a common theme: What’s the process? One person asked “Is there one? Is it just not being followed?”

I had assumed a need for significant process improvement efforts that would not be evident to the stakeholders. But in these questions, I saw some very simple steps to which we could respond immediately in a useful way. That story continues to unfold.

Listening to these questions about a larger system had immediate benefit to a dilemma I’ve been facing in the “system of Beth”: I had a process and was not following it. The dilemma arose when I adopted a gorgeous, three-year-old Samoyed. Even with others helping with his care, the extra time it took from my day was testing the edges of my productivity and well-being. In plain English, I was tired and cranky. I woke earlier and got less rest than I needed. I eliminated things that were “extraneous” in terms of productivity but that also allowed me to transition into my work day like having a leisurely cup of coffee, or transition from it like meditating. I got a lot done but without much joy.

I knew this was not working, which primed me for both the assessment and the solution to be serendipitously delivered as I was going about another task–the interviews.

And that’s what I love about breakdowns. When what we have been doing isn’t working, when we stop to take inventory and assess, breakdowns always mean a breakthrough. For me and for most of us, a trusted advisor’s perspective can be invaluable to helping us maintain a sense of humility–being neither too harsh on ourselves, nor too lenient.

Most importantly, we must allow enough time for the breakthrough to appear. Sometimes it can take even years for the breakthrough to be apparent. Sometimes it is visible to others before we ever see it in ourselves. Other times, it’s like my recent breakdown–when commitment and drive were no longer enough, I had to regroup and go back to basics for managing my productivity.

Learn to love your breakdowns!

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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