Four Lessons Learned During My First Continuous Improvement Project
In 2008, I was an Assistant Auditor General of Performance Audit within the BC Office of the Auditor General (OAG). At the time, we were experiencing challenges that needed immediate attention. Our audits were taking waaytoo long – sometimes as long as two years. Not surprisingly, we were frequently going over budget as well. We also had a new Auditor General who was insisting our audits could take no longer than six months. For all of these good reasons, we decided we needed to streamline our processes.
Given this was my first process improvement project, my first step was to seek help from a consultant. I found Berlineaton on the list of qualified consultants for the Provincial Government’s Continuous Improvement Corporate Supply Arrangement. They came highly recommended and they were easy to hire – the project was off to a great start!
Over the next four months, we worked with the Berlineaton team to:
Set the goals, scope, budget and timelines for the project
Conduct focus groups with staff to gather information on what was working well and needed improvement
Map out the current performance audit process and identify opportunities for improvement
Redesign, implement and continuously improve our processes.
I learned a lot over those four months – here are my top four takeaways:
1. You need more support than you think: At the beginning of the project, I thought I knew everyone that needed to be engaged in the project.
I was wrong.
I had assumed we’d only need to include the Performance Audit Team – this was about performance audit process after all. I soon discovered that we needed IT involved to help us design and develop the technology we needed. We also required the Director of Quality Assurance to approve the changes in process and tools. And, most importantly, we needed all of the Executive team to support the project.
Not having all of these individuals onboard made the implementation process take much longer than I anticipated. Unfortunately some changes were never implemented because we weren’t able to obtain their support.
2. It takes time: I was a bit naïve about how much time the project would take to complete. It took many more discussions than I would have thought to come to agreement. Apparently everyone didn’t share my opinion on everything – who knew? I learned to never underestimate the breadth and depth of the conversations required to come to an agreement on any change.
3. You need external help to get you started and keep you on track: We had tried to do something similar on our own in the past, but had suffered from multiple stops and starts. Other priorities would always interrupt our progress, and we could never get any traction.
Hiring external support was critical to our success. The Berlineaton team expertly guided us through the process and helped us stay on track. We would never have been able to do this without them.
However, our dependency on them definitely declined over time. We desperately needed their help in the beginning but after a few months we were good to go on our own thanks to Berlineaton’s approach, which is to provide clients with the training and coaching they need to become self-sufficient.
4. It’s about culture: When I first decided to engage Berlineaton, I thought I was asking them to deliver a business process reengineering project and that it would be a simple, contained project with a defined start and end. I didn’t understand until about half way into the project that they call it “continuous improvement” for a reason! The real objective became establishing a continuous improvement organizational culture, where everyone is alwayslooking for improvement ideas. Once I figured this out, I shifted my thinking from my short-term objectives to this new way of thinking.
On a personal level, the ultimate result of my first Continuous Improvement project was to make me passionate about Continuous Improvement and working with the team at Berlineaton. I joined Berlineaton 4 years later as a Senior Management Consultant where I apply what I learned from the Office of the Auditor General‘s continuous improvement project with my clients daily.
I’m still learning of course – it’s about continuous improvement after all!