Confessions of a process improvement nerd: Part 1

Keeping it simple is complicated.

June 12, 2018

I’m a process improvement nerd. There—I said it. It feels good to get it out in the open.

At the same time, I’m well aware of the fact that while I get excited about statistical analysis and the elegance of the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) process, other executives’ eyes glaze over having just read this sentence.

Traditional process improvement methodologies and tools can be intimidating, and it’s not always clear how to apply these concepts inside your credit union.

So how can non-process improvement people capture the benefits of streamlined processes without all the challenging math and weird jargon? Keep reading.

The textbook goal of process improvement is to reduce variability, eliminate waste, and minimize errors. But for the purposes of this article, let’s say the goal is to make our processes simple.

We all read about how technology titans like TurboTax and Rocket Mortgage have taken complicated tasks and made them simple. How do they do that? More importantly, how can you do that inside your credit union?

Making a process truly simple can be highly complicated. You must design it in a way that permits anyone, regardless of knowledge or skill level, to complete the task successfully.

But all hope is not lost. By following a few basic steps, anyone can significantly simplify a process. Here’s how:


To improve a process, you must first know what the process is and how people perform it. The best way to define a process is to talk to those who do it.

Have an employee walk you through the process and make a step-by-step guide for you.

Pro tip: Walk through the process independently with multiple employees. You’ll be surprised by how much inconsistency exists in just the individual interpretation of a process.


Examine the process from the point of view of your two most important stakeholders: employees and members. Remember, your goal is to make the process as simple as possible for these two groups.

Boil the process down to its most essential components. This is the hardest part of process improvement. It requires you to question the existing process and to challenge your preconceived notions of how things ought to be done.

If you find yourself justifying a step in the process by saying, “Well, we’re asking that question because it might be cool to know,” then that step is a prime candidate for removal from the process.

Pro tip: Employ a “say it out loud” approach. Have someone say the steps in the process to you aloud. It’s amazing how silly some procedures sound when you hear them.

Prototype and test

Adopt a “fail fast” mentality and develop crude models or analogs for the process you are trying to simplify.

If your process involves moving through a line, use tape on the floor to help you physically experience moving through the queue.

If you’re redesigning a webpage, draw the screens on paper and step through the experience.

These prototypes will save you from investing a ton of time and money in building the wrong process.

Test these prototypes on employees and members. It is critical to test your modifications on people who are not working on the project. This is the only way you’ll know if you truly built a better process or if you just built a new process.

Pro tip: Your prototype doesn’t have to be beautiful. Don’t let a lack of artistic ability stand in the way of improving an experience. There will be plenty of time to pretty up the design later.

Initially, focus on iterating and testing your theories. Failure is a vital part of process improvement success. Your failures will teach you valuable lessons about how your stakeholders approach a task and help you create a better experience.

Implement and monitor

Once you’re confident in your prototype, build it, launch it, and closely monitor the results.

Are processing times faster? Is it easier for employees to deliver a better experience? Are members more satisfied when going through the process? Does the process perform in the wild the same way it performed in a test environment?

Consider these questions as you strive to continually create better member experiences.

The work of improving processes is never really done. Technology evolves, capabilities grow, and members’ needs change.

Revisit the process routinely to ensure it’s still creating the desired outcomes in the most efficient way.

By using this common-sense approach to process improvement, any organization can begin streamlining processes and producing low-friction service experiences for employees and members.

Now that you have a framework for process improvement, you’re armed and ready for change, right?

Maybe. Stay tuned for my thoughts next week on organizational readiness and common process improvement hurdles.

MIKE LONDON is chief lending officer at Georgia United Credit Union in Duluth, and chair of the CUNA Lending Council Executive Committee.