A good process improvement manager is responsible for understanding complex processes, developing better ones and making it easy for your entire team to achieve better outcomes. It takes a unique skill, and without the right person leading the way, your organization’s quality improvement initiatives are going to come up short.
Think about what the purpose of this role is for your company and what you hope they can accomplish. Part of the job will certainly be quantifiable: reducing waste by a certain percentage or improving process speed by a certain amount. But at its core, process improvement is about finding and executing ways for the entire team to be more effective—and doing it in a way that’s repeatable across multiple departments and complicated process streams.
Effective process improvement managers have the right mix of technical and leadership skills for streamlining work processes and facilitating quality outcomes. Here are the seven unique skills you need to look for when selecting a process improvement manager to lead your team.
Technical Attributes to Execute Process Improvement
Your process improvement manager will need to analyze, craft and monitor successful process improvement plans, all while ensuring quality standards and regulatory compliance— even going above and beyond that, to truly get the best results and performance. That requires a few technical skills in particular to execute the day-to-day functions of the job.
1. Process Improvement Method Certifications
Knowledge of at least one or two process improvement methods is crucial in order for this person to successfully execute process improvement plans for your organization. Look for candidates with a black or green belt in Lean or Six Sigma like the IASSC Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, a business process management certification or a certificate in another process improvement method.
Folks with one of these certifications will definitely have an understanding of the principles of process improvement and have very likely done process modeling as part of their training. These are skills they’ll use every day as they come up with solutions for process challenges and look to improve quality at your company.
If you’re looking to build out this skill among current managers, consider investing in a Lean or Six Sigma course and carving out the time for them to focus on their training. It’ll deepen the pool of internal applicants for future process improvement openings and empower more team members to own quality improvement initiatives.
2. Written Skills to Develop Technical Documentation
Process improvement managers need the written skills to develop documentation for your organization that explains new procedures and records their results. This way, team members can follow those procedures easily and work more efficiently.
Technical writing requires more than just drafting and writing to a template, because your process improvement manager likely won’t create just one type of document. They will need to write anything from standard operating procedure and quality standards documents to internal questionnaires or log forms. And they can’t just be good at writing from a grammar or style sense; they will also need to gather information and distill it into a process or document that makes sense for your entire team to follow.
3. Regulatory Compliance and Policy Knowledge
Your process improvement managers can’t come up with solutions that fulfill both quality and compliance needs without ground-level knowledge of regulations and standards, which can be a tricky balance to strike. A great process improvement manager won’t just have knowledge of these standards; they’ll understand the purpose behind them, when they apply, and how they can achieve them in practice while supporting quality processes.
Ironically, the pieces of processes that are designed to ensure compliance are often the cause of inefficiency—or even a lack of process knowledge to begin with. Paper logs offer virtually no visibility into what’s happening in real time in a production environment. However, as Quality Magazine explains, if a pharmaceutical manufacturing process is certified with the use of paper logs, they can’t simply be replaced or removed from the process; FDA standards are too stringent. A process improvement manager would need to draw on their knowledge of regulatory compliance and find a different solution to gain process visibility and make improvements.
4. Data Analysis and Auditing Skills
Process improvement managers regularly have to monitor or sift through data to find opportunities for improvement. That data might be quantifiable or something more qualitative, like patient feedback, but regardless, your process improvement manager needs to bring analytical thinking to the table.
For many process improvement methods, including Lean and Six Sigma, measuring and analyzing data is at the core. The DMAIC cycle, for example, is what drives Six Sigma, and it stands for “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.” For a process improvement project to be a success, the data needs to be accurately assessed at the start and then analyzed again to monitor the results.
Sometimes a quality or internal audit may be the best way of assessing process efficiency, and their findings can provide a blueprint for quality improvement. Your process improvement managers should at least be familiar with reporting on an audit and acting on those findings to make it as seamless as possible for the entire team.
Leadership Skills for Effective Team Management
A successful process improvement manager won’t just have the technical know-how to build better processes, they’ll have the strategic vision and leadership ability to guide your team toward quality-driven, streamlined work.
5. Strategy-First Mindset
A process improvement manager needs a strategy-first mindset to define a vision and goals to aim for when redesigning an existing process. Without the manager’s vision, the process might not see improvements.
A strategic mindset can also help close the gap between strategy formulation and implementation—one of the biggest reasons why good strategies fail, according to a report from The Economist. According to Jeff Austin, Vice President of Strategy Planning at DuPont Pioneer:
“Ensuring a tight linkage between strategy development and how that translates operationally is a challenge. But in effective companies they are integrated in a holistic way.”
Your process improvement manager needs to take a strategic approach to implementing process improvements so they translate seamlessly into operational excellence, or implementation may become disjointed and ineffective across the organization.
6. Ability to Lead Through Change
Change management is at the core of process improvement, and effective managers empower their teams to do their best work through those changes. According to the Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning blog, good leaders stay positive in the face of change and create a space where team members feel comfortable providing input and proposing ideas for improvement—all concepts that are key to a successful process improvement initiative.
Look to see if you can spot the “3 Cs” of effective change leadership in a potential process improvement manager: communicate, collaborate and commit. They should have the ability to instill a sense of purpose and inspiration in the team, foster collaboration to increase ownership over outcomes and show their own commitment to the change efforts.
7. Proactive Communication
Clear, proactive communication from your process improvement managers is the link between a cohesive plan and real-world results.
One study examined the role of communication on a large-scale quality improvement initiative: the “1,000 Lives Campaign,” which sought to save 1,000 additional lives and prevent 50,000 episodes of harm across the Welsh healthcare system over a span of two years. The researchers found that an effective communications strategy between senior campaign staff and frontline healthcare workers “played a pivotal role in improving awareness and understanding of the patient safety agenda” and concluded that structured communication could enhance quality improvement initiatives.
The communications strategy reaffirmed the campaign’s purpose to frontline workers and directly influenced quality outcomes.
Building Up Process Improvement Manager Skills to Develop a Culture of Quality
For successful quality management across your organization, don’t just look to find one person with all of these skills. Train other staff members in the same areas and create pathways for them to focus on process improvement and quality as well.
Your process improvement manager is still going to lead the way, but increasing proficiency in other staff members will help the entire team be more efficient and improve quality. Processing Magazine notes that most companies “have only a handful of trained team members who are proficient enough” in statistical methods, for example, but “allowing process and asset specialists to contribute to these projects would dramatically increase the operational improvements needed to meet the expected organizational goals.”
As much as process improvement managers are responsible for empowering their teams through change, you can empower your entire organization by developing a culture of quality. Create opportunities for managers to build up these skills, whether it’s a Lean Six Sigma certification or 1:1 coaching to develop the ability to lead through change. And continue to build that quality culture by equipping your team with the quality management systems they need to leverage their skills effectively.
Learn more about how ZenQMS supports process and quality improvement initiatives.