Ever argued with someone about the best way to make it to a destination on time? It’s common: two people in a car each insisting that their way is the best way to go. They each have their reasons, and chances are good that either would get them to their destination in good time.

4 Paths Toward Process ImprovementIt’s the same for organizations who turn toward process improvement. The way you implement Lean and the way I implement Lean may look different. And there’s power in that.

Understanding how different change processes look can help you decide what method best supports process improvement in your company. There are 4 paths toward process improvement:

Path #1: Radical Change

Radical change is about fundamentally changing the way your organization operates. It’s breaking away from a template and starting fresh. These changes are usually driven by a catalyst such as a new CEO or a change in the external market. They are fast-paced and big-scope, both high risk and high return. Investing in a workspace with LEAN infrastructure could be a radical change for your organization. Job redesigns, department reorganizations, or management restructuring could constitute radical process improvement changes.

Path #2: Convergent Change

When something converges, it means it comes closer together. It becomes more unified and aligned. Convergent change is about keeping the same organizational template you have and improving on what’s already there.

In process improvement, convergent change is useful when LEAN practices have already been adopted. It’s for those working on fine-tuning and streamlining what they already do well. These changes are subtle, valuable, and easy to maintain because the foundational work is already done. Convergent change happens best when LEAN is already part of an organization’s culture.

Path #3: Planned Change

As the label suggests, planned change is deliberate. It’s about moving the organization from one state to another. Investing in a new workspace with LEAN infrastructure could be a planned change for your organization, rather than a radical one. Well-planned changes tend to run smoother, last longer, and provide more meaningful learning than do other forms. In the context of process improvement, their results can be concretely measured to drive greater efficiency.

Path #4: Emergent Change

Emergent change relies on experimentation and adaptation to create process improvement. It provides venues for knowledge to be filtered through the organization, built upon, and then re-built. The goal is to work on constant progress until improvement is no longer possible. Emergent change is difficult to measure. Its effects may be readily apparent but must be actively championed to get the most from its progress. This change path can be incredibly valuable in organizations with cultures focused on innovation.

You’ll probably need to use all of these paths at some point. Your knowledge about your people, organization, and process improvement journey will help you decide on the most effective path for you.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

* Change paths loosely adapted from Barbara Senior and Stephen Swailes’ Organizational Change. 4th ed. Harlow, Essex, England: Financial Times Prentice Hall/Pearson, 2010.