As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d reflect on the best ways to generate improvements for businesses. I want to share something with you, before you close down for the Christmas break, that could help you in the New Year.

Whether your objectives are related to productivity, on time delivery improvements, gaining more control over your business operations or something else, there was one improvement approach that really stood out for me amongst the many I could write about.

What is this approach I hear you ask?

Improvement task groups.

Whilst there is nothing ground breaking about improvement task groups, many businesses fail to take advantage of this brilliant, low cost, option sitting right within their businesses. The failing that many organisations make is to make the groups either too informal or too formal. With this in mind, here are a few of my tips to help you put this idea into action for your business in the New Year.

Clear purpose

The task group needs to have a clear purpose – what do they need to achieve?

If you cannot articulate this to the group, and be able to constantly reflect upon this, do not start the group.

Cross functional

Ideally your improvement group will include members of staff from all different areas of your business. Not only is this a great way to get new perspectives on the improvement, but it is also a great way for members of your business to learn about how the rest of the business works.

Regular, clockwork, sessions

Work will get in the way of the improvement team’s work if you don’t agree on some regular meetings ahead of time. These slots need to be supported by the highest level of management and protected time put in place as required. Little and often is far more effective than infrequent bursts, with this kind of activity.

Standard (but flexible) agenda

To get the team started a short standard agenda for the meetings is well worth considering. Starting with the basics of items such as – review of previous actions, review of gap against the key objective, obstacles identified, brainstorming and agreeing future actions – should be enough to get most teams started.

The agenda can develop over time, to suit the needs of the team and the business, but it must show a structure of some kind that helps the team to be efficient and effective with their actions.

Well chaired

The sessions need to be chaired properly and the people that are present need to have their voices heard. This probably goes without saying but I have seen many improvement groups start to fail because of this issue.

Keep an eye on this activity and ensure the group gets off to a good start. It might be helpful to agree who is going to chair the improvement team’s meetings at the outset (this can always be rotated from project to project).

Feedback

Instead of waiting until the end of the project to find out if it all worked out, agree on regular updates. They can be as informal as you wish, but as long as they help you to understand if the group is working together properly and that they are on track the updates will be appropriate.

Action plans

Encourage the group to generate an action plan and use that as part of their regular meetings. The simpler the format the better, until the team feel ready for something else. Knowing who is going to do what and by when will be enough to get your team started.

Pre-planned close outs (including deliverables)

Along with the purpose of the improvement project, it is a good idea to be clear on what the end should look like. What deliverables do you need and what form do they need to take? You don’t need to be prescriptive, but some guidance is really helpful.

Providing an expected duration to the activity will also help the team to manage themselves and ensure that you aren’t left frustrated when things haven’t happened as quickly as you would have hoped for.

Formal dis-band and re-grouping

Before you start your first project, determine what happens at the end.

Do the team separate and wait for their next ‘call’?

Do you potentially want to keep a very similar team and add in other players?

Thinking through how the end will be managed and how the next project will start is important so that you can manage expectations. I like to keep it simple and say that each project will be an open invite and that there are no expectations past one project. Unless you have any problem staff this arrangement should be good for most businesses.

I hope that the above points give you something to think about. The people in your business that can really make a difference are also likely to be the same people that want to make a difference. This approach is all about helping them to do so.

I wish you all the best for your plans for the New Year,

Giles

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Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their on time delivery performance. Giles is also the author of 'Business Process Re-engineering'.