Business Process Improvement: 5 Ways to Leverage Collaboration

By Maricel Rivera posted 09-08-2014 03:17


Decisions that upend the comfortable rhythm people of an organization have become accustomed to, no matter how great, are usually met with a certain degree of resistance. Acceptance can be a key problem, especially when big decisions are made without the knowledge and consensus of the majority of the working party.

To improve process management decisions, leveraging internal knowledge through collaborative group sessions is a better bet. Not only will you be able to gather more mutually beneficial ideas, but the inclusiveness of the collaborative sessions will decrease resistance, improving your acceptance rates upon rollout.

Here are examples of ways to capitalize on collaboration for business process improvement:

#1. Creating online brainstorming communities

Creating an online community makes collaboration convenient, not a hassle for employees. This allows distributed teams from all over to be reachable, ensuring continuous communication across multiple platforms.

In 2001, IBM commenced its first collaboration jam, which is the company’s way of connecting its global employee pool of more than 300,000 in a massive online brainstorming session. These online jams were fruitful. Among the results was the ValuesJam in 2003, where the IBM workforce was given the opportunity to help redefine IBM’s core values – a first in almost a century.

In 2004, IBM’s WorldJam brought out 191 ideas to increase growth and innovation, while part 2 of the event allowed employees to rate the best-of-the-best ideas, the top 35 of which management committed to implement. In the 2006 Innovation Jam, 10 new IBM businesses were also launched, which is a testament to an online brainstorming community’s effectiveness.

#2. Global collaboration

Make geographic dispersion actually work for your team.

In a Harvard Business Review article, David Aaker discusses how management fails to identify and leverage great ideas because it might be too confined in a single, isolated silo – more so if this silo is located overseas. Nowadays, the viability of autonomous silos has been reduced to nil, as they inhibit organization-wide branding and marketing consistency.

Aaker proceeded to show how other firms succeeded in successfully collaborating with their overseas teams and leveraging ideas that made business wins. Some of such campaigns are McDonalds’ “I’m lovin it” marketing idea that came from Germany and Pantene’s “Hair So Healthy It Shines” from Taiwan.

Successful collaboration across global silos applies to business process improvement as well. When globally dispersed departments are encouraged and given the convenient means to collaborate and process ideas, approaches from specific parts of the world may be discovered, analyzed, and when found practical, implemented.

#3. Vertical and horizontal collaboration

Usually, business process improvement measures are rolled out on a one-way street. Management make decisions in the board room. They come up with ideas to improve and streamline processes and performance. They hand these instructions down to their workers, who would have to comply whether they feel like it or not. This process is far from ideal, as management can be ignorant of the actual work in highly technical and process-specific working environments.

Without knowledge of the actual work being done, how it’s done, management may have unrealistic expectations and hand down likewise unrealistic process and performance measures. This may eventually create discord or result in the underperformance of their employees. The same goes for interdepartmental collaboration.

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland’s article for research agency APQC’s blog puts it precisely: “If the end goal is to improve the way finance aligns with other departments, shouldn’t finance engage those departments in its efforts to ensure it understands their process and can match its efforts with their needs?”

By encouraging vertical and horizontal collaboration between and through silos for a holistic and mutually effective approach, you will reap the benefits of more improved business processes.

#4. Creating task-specific teams

Another useful idea when implementing a collaborative approach to business process improvement can be gleaned from Tammy Adams’s contribution to the blog.

She suggests the need for creating and using teams tasked with specific goals. Her examples include identifying a guidance team and an improvement team. The guidance team will be composed of around six to eight members, authorities and high-performers in their own rights, who will serve as advisors, advocates and change communicators.

The improvement team, on the other hand, will be your research team. Their task is to identify the processes that need improvement and to trace all other bottleneck sources. This team should be composed of a diverse set of experts who can look into financial, IT, HR, QA, and other aspects of your organization where opportunities for improvement can be found.

By holding collaborative sessions between two such teams, as an example, you come up with a richer source of information that you can use for determining your process improvement approach.

#5. “Idea management” software

In a study by technology association IEEE, the authors found how organizational and social issues within work affect actual business processes, such as software development. Workers may be hesitant to give suggestions to their managers, and managers may be hesitant to roll out new processes to avoid conflict with their team members. Whatever the case may be, building a common platform that protects users from possible bias and conflict, while at the same time promoting transparency, is a good idea to encourage brainstorming.

In Brad Power’s Harvard Business Review article, he touts the opportunities emerging online tools present to a company’s collaborative business process improvement approach. By having a common brainstorming, planning and management platform, different units can be exposed to various strategies, ideas, needs and bottlenecks. A culture of information exchange can be capitalized on to more quickly trace failed approaches and promote best practices.

Social collaboration tools have been found to help reduce rework, repetitive sending of emails, and improve business efficiency. An infographic by Econsultancy shows that in 2012, 52% of companies found online collaboration tools as significant to their businesses, and in three years’ time, 86% will realize the same.

By using an “idea management” software in-house, you can utilize internal knowledge through collaboration, throughout the company and among your actual workers, minimizing the need for excessive management intervention and the expense of hiring outside consultants.

Maricel Rivera manages content for Comindware, an adaptive BPM and project management software provider. You may also connect with her on Twitter.

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