How to set up process improvement teams

If your organization is dealing with frustrated employees and customers, bottlenecks in workflows, and ineffective use of resources, it’s time to begin process improvement efforts. 

However, if your employees are working on multiple projects with tight deadlines, it can be difficult to add another item to their already overflowing workload. Creating dedicated process improvement teams ensures that your employees have ownership and accountability in the initiative, as well as the time to execute their efforts.

1. Select a knowledgeable and diverse group of people

According to the Six Sigma methodology, the way a team is constructed is directly related to its success. If you don’t have the right people on the team, your organization is less likely to reach its process improvement goals. Process improvement teams should include the following:

  • Process improvement experts. This is an obvious inclusion, but its importance cannot be overstated. Team members should be well versed in process improvement methodologies and have experience applying them in the workplace.
  • Diverse thinkers. It’s important for the members of the process improvement team to have different experiences and ways of looking at problems. Having multiple points of view represented will ensure that your team doesn’t overlook any potential issues.
  • Small numbers. While it can be tempting to include multiple people from multiple departments in the process improvement team, it’s best to keep the size manageable. The Six Sigma methodology, for example, recommends keeping the teams to seven or eight people at most.

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2. Set clear roles within the team

Once you’ve selected the members of the process improvement team, it’s time to assign each person a specific role. When employees know what’s expected of them, they will take more ownership of their actions and work more effectively toward achieving their targets. 

Different process improvement methodologies have varying titles and roles for team members. You can follow a specific methodology or combine different ones.

Here are the roles from the Six Sigma methodology, as an example:

  • Champion. This role is the intermediary between the process improvement team leader and upper management. The champion helps clarify the process improvement team’s goals and boundaries, and explains the team’s objectives. They are also the key motivator for the group, ensuring they have the interest, energy, and resources to complete their assignments.
  • Team leader. This role is responsible for collaborating with the champion, negotiating the objectives, reporting on team progress, and requesting additional resources. They are essentially the process improvement team’s representative to anyone outside the team, embodying strong leadership and management qualities.
  • Team member. The process improvement team consists of multiple members who collect and analyze data, chart progress, and implement solutions. A key part of their responsibilities is to support other team members in their work. Sometimes, team members also deliver presentations to the champion on the progress of the team.
  • Facilitator. This role is part administrative and part technical. They organize meeting agendas and ensure the team stays on track during meetings. If the team requires technical support or information on specific principles or techniques, they can go to the facilitator. Because they aren’t directly involved in the team’s work, facilitators have the benefit of providing objective, third-party input on specific challenges the team may be up against.

3. Establish expectations and goals for the team

Once you’ve defined each role, it’s important to define expectations for the team. Specify what the team is responsible for and what goals they’re trying to achieve. 

In some process improvement methodologies, the team develops a charter, which is a succinct outline of the objectives and the scope of the team’s work, as well as the names and specific responsibilities of the team members. It also includes the resources available to the team. Even if you’re not following a specific process improvement methodology, having a charter-like document is a good way to outline what you need to achieve.

Process improvement teams are a vital component of process improvement, regardless of the methodology or approach. Be sure to select a knowledgeable and diverse group of people, and keep the team size manageable. Assign roles clearly so everyone knows what they’re responsible for, and document the scope, expectations, and goals.

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