One of the most difficult tasks in the entire process improvement initiative can be getting the project off the ground. Building the right momentum while the project is in its infancy can be make or break for the improvement goals.
While this is definitely an "easier said than done" situation, there are a few strategies to keep in the forefront of your mind while planning and beginning your process transformation.
Analysis is the biggest factor before and during the first stages of the project: it is crucial to understand where your organization's processes are here and now before deciding how to improve them.
For example - what is the management like in your company?
A traditional culture involves managers and supervisors who simply tell employees what to do.
If this sounds like your organization, be prepared for a difficult road in process improvement. While many of the aspects of continuous improvement apply to all organizations and all styles of management, this is the most difficult environment to implement change.
Managers in a traditional culture feel they already have the answers, and don't need to be a part of a rigid workflow.
A process or cross-functional style of management will lend itself to improvement much faster.
In a process management style, managers who have been trained in process modeling, best practices and analysis will have the drive to redesign failing processes, but often these improvements and changes will be confined to their immediate department. This is not by any means a bad way to start - often, adopting the strategies in a single department at first can help with adoption later on down the road. Remember, the term is "continuous improvement", not "let's-all-change-something-tomorrow-morning-and-hope-for-a-long-term-gain improvement".
Cross-functional management knows that functions, divisions, and departments need to be based on creating the best possible experience for the customer through an efficient workflow. The other duty that identifies cross-functional management is taking ownership of their processes both before and after the actual process has occurred.
The sooner your management can achieve a state conducive to improving the actual processes, the better the project will go once underway.
Once the reality has set in that the management and executives are committed to the improvement effort, begin preparing the organization for change. Revisit the reasons and goals for wanting the improvements, and define how each of these goals will be achieved clearly and concisely. Once these are outlined, present the concepts to all employees who will be touched by the efforts.
The last thing you want is for workers to be surprised by a sudden shift in their work environment. It makes employees and management alike feel disconnected from the work they do, and like their opinion has no weight or value in the company.
Finally, have a clearly defined starting point. If working in a single department, treat the opening phase as a single project. If a software implementation is going to occur, plan for that as part of the initial project as well. Get buy-in from both executives and a small group of people to test the improvement efforts. If you see the project failing, adapt and evolve the project to meet the changing needs of the business. Stay agile, and work towards the original goals that were set.
Once in place successfully for the first target department, other departments will see success and be begging for process improvement as you plan the next stages of scaling the solution.