5 Keys to Leading Successful Business Process Improvement With a Cross-functional Team

Much of the value generated by organizations happens during cross-functional processes, and the many activities that provide support. Examples are found in every industry and organization. Here are a few:

  • The entire process from when an order is taken to when it is shipped
  • New product development processes
  • Customer service process originating in marketing and executed in call centers
  • Education processes from curriculum development to student achievement
  • Mergers and acquisitions from due diligence to integration
  • Recruitment, selection, on-boarding, performance management, and development
  • ERP implementations
  • Strategy implementation

How effectively and efficiently a process works greatly affects the value customers receive and the costs organizations occur. That's why improving business processes is both important and never-ending. At the same time, it can be a challenge to make significant process improvements in an organization that is structured by functions. Here are five key success factors for cross-functional teams looking to improve these processes.

  1. Focus on Being Successful, Not Achieving Perfection
    It's common for cross-functional team to get bogged-down in minutia and have progress stall. To avoid this, keep refocusing the team on the overall process and key issues without getting too deep in any one area. Usually, each functional area will be able to address specifics later. It's often helpful to take the position that getting 80% of the way is the role of the cross-functional team, and the remaining 20% are details to be worked out by specific functions.
  2. Use a Facilitator Experienced With Improvement Teams
    If you're looking for a subject matter expert to redesign your process, get a consultant to do a study and recommend an improved process. But if you want to tap the smarts of your own people and their expertise with your products, your markets, and how your organization operates, then you need a process consultant whose expertise and experience is working with disparate groups to improve overall processes in a variety of situations. A process consultant adds great value by keeping the team focused on the big process picture, maintaining an unbiased objectivity, ensuring participation from all team members, resolving conflicting perspectives and objectives, prompting and provoking the group to innovate and get beyond "the way we've always done it," and in making sure that the group makes progress on the overall objectives without getting "stuck in the weeds." Additionally the facilitator will provide momentum, keep the project on track, challenge and question decisions, and regularly apprise the sponsor of the project status.
  3. Keep It As Simple As Possible
    There are many approaches to process improvement and business process reengineering. Some are very sophisticated and complex causing unnecessary work and delays. You're better off taking a sound fundamental approach and adapting it to your situation and to achieve your objectives. Here are the basics:
    • Sponsor, team leader, and team member roles are important and need to be clearly defined.
    • Some form of project charter helps identify specific objectives and measures of success.
    • Having a thorough understanding of the current key issues and a high-level "as is" process flow chart, and project plan, are critical to keeping the team focused and the work on track.
    • Creating an ideal (also high-level) "to be" process helps to ensure that the team thinks of innovation instead of simply improvements to the current state.
    • Use a structured way to elicit input from team members in and out of meetings, not just during team meetings.
    • Team recommendations need to include implementation steps and metrics and the team needs to continue their monitoring during the implementation stage.
  4. Consider Short Meetings
    Shorter working sessions of about two hours, if regularly scheduled, often make more sense than trying to work through day-long meetings. Not only do people get tired, but the time to reflect and confer with colleagues can be quite valuable, and everyone will come to each meeting with fresh thinking. It may make good sense to add longer meetings at key stages when appropriate.
  5. Between Meeting Assignments
    Assignments between meetings also add value because much can be done "offline" and assignments help ensure that team members are still engaged between meetings and come to each meeting on the same page.