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Lean Change: Applying Process Improvement to Change Management

Aug 17, 2007
Change is no longer the exception but the rule. Most companies today are in a constantly adjusting or modifying something, with a number of initiatives underway... hopefully all aimed at making business better.

But there is a problem: In most organizations we have seen, change is problematic... slow, cumbersome, confusing, disorganized, inefficient, and in many cases, downright wasteful.

"How can this be?" you say. We have been in the "heat of change" for well over a decade. How can it still be so problematic?

While we don't know all the reasons for the messy state of affairs, we do know the right direction for the solutions.

Solution One: Change must be seen as a work process, as a value stream of work that moves a business organization from one operating state to another more effective state. We must stop seeing this transition as a transaction or one-time event, but as a core process of businesses that are required to keep changing to stay competitive. If change is a constant, then organizations should see it as a process - a process that is constantly in operation.

Solution Two: Waste must be eliminated from the change process. If change is a process, then it is subject to process improvement - like any other. Why not use a Lean approach?

For many companies, the principles and tenants of Lean Manufacturing can be directly applied to reduce the waste in their change management process. Key Lean steps include...

1. Documentation - documenting the processes - or "value streams" - that are used in one or more of the company's change initiatives; these may include vision creation, communication, tool redesign, tool deployment, etc.

2. Analysis - performing Kaizen events to identify and eliminate non-value-added steps; these retreat-like events allow members of the organization to question how things are currently done and propose better solutions.

3. Continuous Improvement - the work of process improvement is never done; the organization can hold Kaizen events periodically as well as more frequent and informal meetings where suggestions can be discussed and tested.

In the current environment of unrelenting change, what better process to study and improve than the process of change itself? Applying these principles would lead an organization to document to process by which new initiatives are identified and managed to closure. They would take a timeout periodically to formally analyze the performance of these processes. And finally, they would continuously look for little tweaks and adjustments to enhance the efficiency of these processes in small ways.

While most organizations struggle to make change happen at all, applying lean principles to change management can put your organization in a league by itself.
About the Author
Get a free copy of the 250-page change manifesto Change is the Rule: Free Change Management Book

Dutch Holland is principal and founder of Holland & Davis, a consulting firm specializing in helping clients implement change.
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