How to Kickstart Service Improvement

Much of the business our organisation conducts is focussed on the product generation aspects of our clients business. For a manufacturer this means the shop floor activities where parts are assembled in a sequence to produce a saleable product. When we speak to a potential client concerning improvement programs or processes the client immediately assumes we are talking of improvement within the manufacturing area, and that improvement – we are told – needs to be centred on a workforce concerns are centred on pay and benefits!

This is in no sense an overstatement of the way company managers view their employees.

While improvements are clearly possible inside such an environment, it’s also true that a significant percentage of the staff isn’t directly involved with producing saleable products, but with administrative service support. These employees are frequently seen in a different light to the manufacturing group, and it is apparent to us that any improvement process that bypasses administrative functions also misses the opportunity to achieve significant efficiency savings for the employer. However, an improvement program has to capture the imagination of the participants, while providing a mechanism for individuals and work groups to participate and be successful. It is also necessary for managers to encourage individual contributions and contribute their managerial ‘weight’ to the achievement of any improvement. All of this while not attempting to take the credit for any performance improvement.

While considering the differences of work pattern and culture that is the norm for the administrative and support functions in these businesses, the similarity of work to staff working in service industries became apparent, where much of the activity is clerical and administrative. Whatever solution could be found to enable us to engage with these people would probably work regardless of the nature of the business. We were clear in our minds that long term improvement programs typical of manufacturing facilities would not be appropriate for administrative functions.

For many years we were attracted by the pragmatic teachings of the late Philip Crosby, author of Quality is Free and many similar books. The program defined in that book has been adapted world-wide to the benefit of countless organisations and individuals. Less well know within the same tome is a program he chose to call ‘Make Certain.’ With some effort we adapted Make Certain to a 21st century European culture and sought an opportunity to trial the outcome.

An existing client gave us the opportunity to demonstrate its worth within an administrative workforce of 120 staff. Working with groups of around 20 individuals, each with a mixture of skills and department affiliation, we spent time explaining the process and encouraging their involvement and contribution to improve both overall and specific efficiencies and effectiveness. We too learned from this experience and were able to develop the program further.

For our client’s organisation the trial run was a success because for possibly the first time each person understood the nature of their own individual work process, and how this related to – and effected, all of the surrounding processes. This understanding led to a desire to improve, and because local managers and supervisors were participants measurable performance improvements were achived. This first trial of the ‘Make Certain’ program was a spectacular success. An estimated 10% increase in efficiency, as measured by the ‘work units’ produced by the staff involved, only 9 months from program implementation.