All Leaders encounter a disheartening reality when they have built an A-Team of veracious proficient people, and then discover success continues to circumvent their preeminent efforts.  They have distinguished precise strategies, the “smartest” goals, and elaborate action plans, but their A-Team continues to spiral downward into an exasperating abyss.  Despite superlative attitudes, immense dedication, and soaring urgency, results plummet on a downward trend.  Such a perplexing Cycle of Un-Quality is sufficient to thrust any manager to the brink of anxiety and anger.

The resulting resolution is to stereotypically require more obligatory meetings, pursue and discover blame, pressure team members for perfection, and retire from the chamber, hopeful that the theatrics of the day will now make a difference.  Instead, the manager classically ends up with an awfully frustrated collection of individuals who, while committed to performing at their highest levels, are failing on a personal level.  An A-Team will receive this blow hard and conceive it as a “set-up”.  A-Team players who feel they are performing but failing can easily turn against the team and their manager as the reason for failure, instigating an implosion which essentially stops the team dead in the water.

Cycle of Un- Quality

An experienced Leader discovering his A-Team in this “drowning” condition will detect the manifestation of “root cause” issues which are holding down the team’s proficiency.  And before he runs off to find fault with the “Corporate” initiatives and directives, he will recognize there is one area which must be scrutinized first.  It is time to analyze if the right people are doing the right things, but in the wrong way.  A comprehensive examination of the current “Process” is essential.  The most adept A-Team will not reach their goals if they are not correctly synchronized.  And if they are out of sync over and over again, they are set-up for a frustrating failure which will become absolutely unacceptable to their personal sensibilities and Values.  A Leader must diagnose this condition and implement process analysis measures if he is to effectively guide his team back to striving for and attaining their goals.

Process Development and Improvement, once thought only to reside in the domain of Operations, has become a necessity for every function within an organization.  Whether it is Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, or Strategic Implementation an effectual process is a minimum requirement.  A Leader who can develop an exemplary process will not only create enhanced and faster deliverables, but he will gain a competitive advantage with which to win over the competition!

There are many disciplines to assist a Leader in Process Improvement.  They range from intricate and meticulous programs such as ISO Standards to “hands-on” team involved Kaizen events led by Six Sigma experts.  All of these programs work with the proper intelligence, discipline, feedback systems, and follow through.  But a Leader’s principal responsibility is to possess the skills and insights necessary to ascertain fundamental process pitfalls within their dominion.  Sitting in the back seat and turning one’s team over to a facilitator, who knows little about the objectives of their business unit, will result in a Leadership void guaranteed to negatively impact the implementation of any newly developed plans.   Even the best facilitator, will work a team towards consensus through collaboration running the risk of a watered-down plan lacking committed buy–in.  A Leader must retain charge of the Process Improvement analysis and initiative.  Leaders carry the definitive responsibility for their team’s turnaround and therefore, must look at an external facilitator only as a resource to their Leadership.

As a Leader, it is your responsibility to understand the basics of Process Improvement.  There is a great amount of information available regarding Six Sigma tools and the effectiveness of properly run Kaizen Events.  Gaining a strong personal foundation in these skills, allows you to identify process problems early on with your team.  Swift action with the proper tools can change a problematic course before your team’s failure and frustration sets-in.  A Leader should be able to provide the “first line of defense” for his A-Team before it becomes necessary to call in the lifeboats and await their arrival.

You will discover many accessible tools: fishbone charts, brainstorming methodologies, from/to diagraming exercises, and the like.  But when I sense a process may be off-track and requires evaluation I seize a modest tool called a Deployment Chart created by quality guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  The Deployment Chart is a flowcharting mechanism which allows you to inspect a process and apprehend the numerous relationships different people in the process have to the tasks and to each other.  It originates with a comprehensive understanding of the basic roles and responsibilities of each team player, but focuses deliberation on the separation of tasks due to an ineffective workflow.

The Deployment Chart moves past the typical linear examination of task sequence and examines a multi-dimensional formatting process from a “people perspective”.  Upon embarking on any new management assignment, I ask for a copy of the written processes.  Then I take them home and at night and plot the processes on a Deployment Chart to determine early on where my new team may be struggling.  Just because the process has defined the correct steps in the correct order, it does not qualify for effectiveness on the “people level”.  I once walked into a consulting assignment where the company had implemented a new company-wide process, just weeks before.  Although they spent six months creating the new process, they were frustrated with the lack of progress and were already conducting Un-Quality Meetings.  I took the procedures, locked myself in a conference room for one hour, and then headed to the owner’s office (Deployment Chart in hand) to graphically show him why their new process was doomed to failure.  We identified and resolved the systemic problems the next day and rolled out a new process which continued working for years.

Preparing a Deployment Chart is actually rather simple.  On the left side of the paper, proceeding down a vertical column, you list all of the tasks involved in a process in their current sequence.  Across the top of the paper you list each of the roles for people who are involved in the process.  With the tasks on the left side and the roles across the top of the paper a matrix has been formed which will help us identify the efficiency of the process flow.  For each task on the left side of this page, identify the role on the top of the page that is responsible for actually performing and completing the task and then make a mark in that box on the matrix.  Only one role or person can be truly responsible for any given task.  If a task is somehow shared by two or more people, you should attempt to break it out into two separate tasks.

Poor Process Flow - Doesn't Have a Chance

An examination of our completed Deployment Chart will show us whether we have a smooth flowing process that makes sense.  Often times the Deployment Chart will display a process containing multiple hand-offs back and forth between people, or worse, between departments.  The matrix will highlight where “the ball will be dropped” and where departmental walls have the potential to block and delay the process.  You will also be able to identify unfortunate scenarios where two people who are required to be associated and connected with a particular part of the process are entirely detached and removed from each other in the process structure.

Good Process Flow - Smooth Team Interaction

Accurate examination of your Deployment Chart combined with constructive A-Team meetings should result in revamping your process into a smooth flowing platform.  A new process which addresses and flows toward a people-centric solution will intensify productivity, advance communication, diminish stress and frustration, and create innovative benchmarks for higher results.

All Leaders must understand the importance of Process Improvement and the potential gains they can achieve regardless of their organizational function.  But a Street Smart Leader does not wait until his team is drowning in the Un-Quality Cycle before he takes action.  He arms himself with the fundamental tools to take early and swift action as soon as bottlenecks, dropped balls, and team frustration materializes.  Waiting for the Six Sigma Team to show up only delays improved results and sets you in the back seat waiting for rescue.  Read the books and attend the seminars necessary to become a Process Improvement expert in your own right.  It is a major component of any Leader’s Accountability.  When the Kaizen lifeboat finally surfaces to pull your team out of the water, they will find you have already accomplished your process work and are soaring towards new horizons of success!