The APQC Blog

Collaboration for Process Improvement: Getting It Together

How often do we start something only to discover we have to go back to square one because we overlooked an important stakeholder?

We’ve all been the victim of email spamming, and I’d like to start this by apologizing for any part I may have ever played in spamming your inbox. Years ago, in a former life, my research group was working on a survey project with a co-sponsor who asked us to move up the project timeline. The sponsor had an upcoming event and wanted to provide a copy of the report’s findings to all attendees. So we went back to the project plan, restructured the timeline, and reset expectations with the research staff and design team. It would be a tight deadline, but with some long hours and luck, we would make it. Crisis averted— or so we thought, until two weeks later when the marketing department was beating down our door because we forgot to coordinate the new timeline with their campaign calendar.

We had completely overlooked a key stakeholder with far-reaching consequences on multiple business groups—not to mention the impact on customers getting slammed on all sides by email campaigns (hence the apology).

Organizations are steadily moving away from command-and-control cultures and business silos to collaborative cultures that employ cross-functional planning and work groups. But why the shift? Is this because of the growing impact of millennials on business? Is it a ripple effect from the ever-growing presence of social media and the “share” culture it engenders? Or is it simply because collaboration helps us break down silos, which has its own benefits?  

Benefits of Collaboration for Process Improvement

If done correctly, stakeholder collaboration is one of the best ways to break down silos. However, that in and of itself doesn’t really tell us much. The important question: What do we get out of collaboration?

Collaboration helps us:

  • capture the best ideas in the organization,
  • uncover cross-functional interdependencies and synergies,
  • create a holistic picture of the process,
  • improve priority and goal alignment, and
  • reduce rework.

In other words, collaboration is a way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and the project is done right the first time.

Let’s take the finance department as a key stakeholder, for example. Given finance’s role in establishing and monitoring the KPIs of business performance, it’s vital that they play a role in departments’ process improvement efforts.  Furthermore, as organizations use process improvement methods to augment finance’s business analysis and improve its alignment with strategic objectives, collaboration is more important than ever. If the end goal is to improve the way finance aligns with other departments, shouldn’t finance engage those departments in its efforts to ensure it understands their process and can match its efforts with their needs?

Challenges of Collaboration for Process Improvement

We can all accept that collaboration has intrinsic value for process improvement. However, it is not without its challenges, and brings to mind another slew of questions, such as:

  1. How do you identify who should be included?
  2. Where do you draw the line? How many stakeholders are too many?
  3. How do you drive consensus? How do you keep the project on track with so many perspectives and opinions?

Unfortunately, there are no quick or easy answers to these questions. One place to start is by examining the best practices of other organizations, comparing their approaches to your own, and seeing if they will fit or can be modified.

You can read more about the role of stakeholder collaboration in APQC’s Business Excellence team’s recent interview with Bob Heibeler, Co-Founder of St. Charles Consulting, Integrating Content into Process.

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