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Communicating Process Improvement Benefits

October 7, 2008

Paper and PencilA large part of my job is process improvement—working with various departments and groups in our organization (K-12 education) to see where technology would provide cost savings and “better ways” of doing things.  I really do enjoy it and like to see people empowered with tools to do their job better.

We’re slowly running into a culture clash—those who are holding on desparately to the paper and those who are forcing change.  Unfortunately, those “forcing change” don’t want to force it—they want our department (or anyone else) to be the “bad guys.” 

That’s cool—I can be the bad guy.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to sell to the individuals a different process when those at the highest levels (their bosses) can’t sell it.

Here’s an example we’re running into:

For years, thousands of staff members have used paper and pencil bubble sheets to do grading.  Paper, handwritten grade cards went home to students (NCR paper copies each grading cycle).  These copies were lost, destroyed, and unreadable by the end of the year.  In addition, the paper, labels, and copies cost into the tens of thousands per year.  It wasn’t a good situation (considering it’s 2008) for parents or teachers.

A new, online grading system was requested by leadership; throughout it’s development both the customer and the focus group of the customer’s customers (those thousands of staff members) tested, worked hand-in-hand, and approved the application, it’s layout, and performance metrics.

However, after rolling it out, the complains came rolling in.  Filling a report out takes more time than “ticking off bubbles on paper” per student.  Latency in the network, across VPN for home users, and simply using the application puts it at about 35 seconds per student (1–2 seconds to load, 30 seconds for the teacher to mark their grades using the drop downs, 2–3 seconds to save and return validation).  The server side runs well—the app runs fast, but we can’t push it down the wire any faster.  There’s latency in there that developers can’t attack—especially in web applications.

When we try to reason and explain the technology, we’re countered with “well, in 2–3 seconds, I can put 5–10 check marks on a piece of paper—that’s just wasting my time.”  And of the postive benefits of the system?  So far, they’re not to be seen—those pushing for it can’t (or won’t) stand up for it. 

At this point, should it be the developers to advocate the application if the customers (the end users are the customers of our customer) don’t want to deal with the “pressure” of implementing change?

If the qualifiers for the process improvement are met, but adoption wavers because of lack of support—who’s call is that?

Just curious what everyone out there thinks.  At this point, I’m in coaching mode with our customers to work with them on how to sell change and get buy in from their customers…


Categories: Education, Workplace
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