Eric Hiller Provides Operational and Process Improvement Tips

Companies always have processes, whether those processes are formalized or not. One of the most important processes is how companies develop and deliver products or service that both fulfill consumer expectations efficiently and align with the overall business strategy.

Though it might appear laborious and perhaps ill-advised to re-shuffle a company’s fundamental processes, especially when business is relatively thriving, integrating astute process improvement strategies will make the transition seamless.

Eric Hiller, the managing partner of Hiller Associates who happens to specialize in process improvement, shares a few useful tips that will serve to upgrade operational methodologies and keep it humming along.

Eric Hiller’s top pieces of wisdom for process improvement and operational transformation

Eric Arno Hiller believes that if you adhere to these principles, your operational and process routines will come out advanced, better than the previous measures:

1. A new engineered process that is inferior to the current informal process that is already in place will fail overtime.

2. Tools are enablers and the final element that you should think about.

(generally, the order with which the change agent should be concerned is (1) culture, (2) process, (3) team and then (4) tools. However, remember that this is a general list of priority. Real process transformation is more iterative with work on all four of the elements providing feedback and constraints to the others

3. Less is more.

The least amount of process that one can implement while at the same time preventing chaos is typically for the best.

4. Consider the strategic goals you want the outcomes of the process to deliver.

Part of this is to understand what are constraints (e.g. we must have at least this much X or not exceed Y)versus what outcome you want to maximize vision of what you wish to optimize (e.g. speed to market, product quality, value to the customer, revenue, profit, etc.). A good goal is to have one overarching metric you want to optimize, and every other goal should be framed as a constraint or boundary.

5. Eliminate the swim lane canonicity in your value stream mapping (VSM) formats.

Although this is the traditional way to map and engineer a process, realize that this is most useful to process experts. Many others in the organization will be confused by these circuit diagram. Eric Hiller suggests instead using mostly linear flows with icons to denote other dimensions, such as who is responsible for each action.

6. Keep the process documentation simple and use progressive disclosure.

That is, each person should only need to deeply grasp two things (1) the general flow of the process and where they intersect with it and (2) the double-click on the part of the process in which they directly participate. They only need to somewhat familiarize themselves with the specific process flow of others. Eric Hiller relates seeing product develop processes at former employers and clients that filled binders wider than his arm span. He says it is about as likely one wins the lottery as that anyone ever opened these binders after they were created. His rule of thumb is that if 90% of the important ideas in your process cannot be communicated in a written manual less than one-half inch thick or in a 30 page slide presentation, it is too complex and people will “self-truncate” the process to something that they can comprehend.

7. The specifics of the process are often less important than the discipline to follow it.

For example, one study showed that there was no significant difference between the performance of manufacturing organizations using six-sigma vs. Lean vs. Lean-Six-Sigma vs. Theory of Constraints vs. another process. The meaningful difference was between organizations who had ANY formal process that people were taught and to which they adhered versus those who had no process defined.

8. Refer to your process as the “current best practice” to avoid resistance.

It sounds like semantics, but “best practice” seems like an eternal way to do something or the one way. Adding “current” to “best practice” reminds people that there are multiple ways that might work well and that even if there is a best way today, it may not be the best way tomorrow as new technology and business conditions arise.

9. Use external change agents

Such as consultants, lecturers, and interim executives as is necessary. First, can provide the focus and resources the internal team does not have with a day job. Second, they can bring knowledge from other industries and have likely seen many more of such transformations. Finally, external change agents can serve as the focus if negativity arises to prevent damage to the organization is the process transformation is stressful

10. Make sure executive management is committed.

Ask them the hard questions, such as do you have the available resources to attack this problem? Do you have the “provisions to withstand the siege” during a period of transition? Do you personally have the political will and credibility to overcome the activation energy or orbital gravity to get the new process in place and stable?

11. Pilot the process first to show value.

Cold turkey implementations and burning platforms should be a last resort rather than an initial priority. It is often easier to present the new process as a desirable new place. A good way to do this is to first pilot the new process on a high-profile project to show its success and create internal evangelists within the company. These people have credibility with their colleagues and can help them understand a new processes benefits and what work needs to be done to get there.

Eric Arno Hiller is the managing partner of Hiller Associates | Chicago, IL |