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Methodologies & Frameworks
5 Tips For Making Process Improvement Easier

When setting out to write this, I intended to focus on our agency’s slight (but important) shift to Scrum in recent months. This is happening after our small PM team became certified ScrumMasters earlier this summer. I work at Crema, a Midwest-based tech and innovation agency focused on building custom web and mobile apps for a wide swath of clients. We’ve been focused on agile methodologies for the last couple years and always trying to improve our craft. And I mean always.

Let’s just say our love for LaCroix is only eclipsed by our dedication to constant improvement.

process improvement - lacroix boi

While a short case study might be interesting to some, I realized some key learnings could be extrapolated to any team trying to implement any process.

For all intents and purposes: a process improvement could be as simple as adding a new tag to your project management tool or as complex as overhauling the approval loop for a release.

Whether you’re a DPM at a small agency, or one of many in a larger operation, chances are there are things you’d like to improve. Hopefully, you have the opportunity to make adjustments in favor of more effectively reaching your team and project objectives. It may not be as easy as flipping a switch, but there are ways to make it feel less daunting.

5 Tips For Making Process Improvement Easier

Regardless of the scale, here are some things to remind yourself when implementing a new process

#01. Be Empathetic

I could also argue this is the most important value of project management, but empathy should reign supreme when trying to incorporate a new process. Chances are, this change is going to impact someone’s workflow or perhaps their preferred way of doing things. We are all creatures of habit, and even if the process change will help in the long run, there’s a chance it could ruffle feathers before the true benefits are felt by everyone.

Always try to look at process changes through the lens of anyone who will be affected. Better yet, be sure to gather multiple perspectives before rolling out any sort of process update. By bringing more people to the conversation earlier and understanding how a change may have downstream effects, you could open the door for an even more effective adoption.

Keep in mind that it may take team members longer than anticipated to fully embrace the change. Be there to help remind them of the benefits it will provide and offer to remove any impediments they may be experiencing with the change.

#02. Be Strategic

They say there’s a time and a place for everything, and process improvement is no different. I’m currently managing a project where we decided somewhat rapidly to switch from our beloved Asana to ZenHub less than a week before development was starting. The benefits seemed to outweigh the risks, and once the full team gave the thumbs up, we moved everything over. We’ve learned a lot about our new tool and process along the way, and while the approach might have been a little shotgun, we knew it was the right way to go.

Alternatively, there have been instances where our PM team will discuss process improvements that are more suited to a particular project more than others. We will use that project to experiment and report back to the team with learnings and challenges that emerged. Once results have been measured, and the team’s in agreement, the change is rolled out to all related projects.

Process improvement - be strategic

There is a bit of “strategery” in it.

Improving a process comes down to a few key variables: time, project, team, and cost. If all those lineup and there is a shared desire to move forward, pull the trigger! Just be sure to monitor and take action if/when appropriate.

#03. Be Realistic

How I wish you could wish a process improvement into reality overnight, but more often than not, these things take time. And conversations. And commitment. Remind yourself and your team members that it’s okay to ask questions and raise concerns if (or when) the update to the process may feel a bit off. Getting feedback during these early periods is the perfect opportunity to optimize the effects of this change.

It’s also helpful to remind yourself that even the best-laid plans can go awry. Don’t be too proud to pull back from a process improvement if it truly isn’t meeting the desired goals. It’s better to make a change and adjust than not make a change at all.

process improvement - be realistic

Don’t be too proud. It’s better change than let the house burn down.

Keeping your feet on the ground and in tune with how the process change is affecting your project stakeholders will help you navigate the waters even better. Remember that, at the end of the day, project management should help people do their best work – not get in the way.

#04. Be Dedicated

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I find these words inspiring on a personal level and believe the same lesson can be applied at work. You’ve gotta believe in your process change and root for it until the cows come home.

People are likely going to have doubts, and that is okay. Hear them out, and then explain how this improvement could help them for x, y, and z reasons. Advocating for a process improvement you believe in is noble, and if you can tie that back to the people doing the work, chances are they will hop on the train as well.

process improvement - be dedicated

Advocate for the process improvement and your team will hop on the train.

Make yourself available to questions and comments about the change, and remember to try and recognize team needs even before they bring them up. If you notice someone raising an eyebrow at something, ask them if they have any concerns you can address. Proactivity goes hand in hand with this and will help to ease anyone’s nerves when their work is being impacted.

#05. Be Patient

Last, but not least, please be patient. Be patient with the process, but also with yourself. Again, these changes won’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, either. Hopefully, your team will start to see the benefits sooner than later, but don’t be too discouraged if it’s taking longer than you’d like.

Process improvement - be patient

Just calm down and be patient. Your team will understand the benefits sooner or later.

In this fast-paced industry, some things seem to move as quick as lightning, but I’ve found that process changes can lag on longer than anticipated. By following some of the tips above, I hope that some drag time can be diminished. Even if it’s not, stay faithful that things will pan out.

In line with this, it could be helpful to track some key metrics with your process change to know whether or not it is effective. Data can help make decisions a little more objective and zoom us back out to the big picture.

At the end of the day, processes can either help teams exceed expectations or hold them back. Be an advocate for improvements and efficiency, and comment below if you’ve found other helpful tricks along the way. We’ve always got our ear to the ground and love to talk with DPMs about their project trials and successes.

If anything, DPMs seem to be some of the most high achieving, process-oriented folks in all the land. So keep being that change you wish to see in your projects.

What Do You Think?

Have you tried to implement process improvements at your agency? Tell us your experience and how did you proceed. We would love to hear from you.

Related Podcast: How Project-Level Innovation Can Influence Broader Change (with Tim Creasey from Prosci)

By Alexa Alfonso

Alexa Alfonso is a digital project manager and client lead with more than 9 years of experience working as a project manager, Scrum master, client success director, and client lead. Her skillset also extends to account management, business development, & content strategy and development. She's also an agile aficionado, and happy to share her knowledge on making agile work.

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  • Hi Alexa. A succinct article that hits the spot. I particularly agree with the way you led the content with the Empathy heading. So often the softer skills are left as the 'Aunt Sally' "Right you lot we're gonna do Agile/Extreme/Kanban OK!" is counter productive as is it implies do this or else with the risk of disenfranchising folks. Nice one.


    • Thanks, Paul! Appreciate that. I feel we're all just in the business of people, so being others-focused can bring some honesty to any situation.