Improving Processes & Services
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About Improving Processes & Services

For any organisation to consistently deliver consistently high quality services, it needs  three things:

There is little controversy in that statement. The difficulty is in achieving and maintaining that state of affairs - it is an organisational difficulty along the following lines. This toolkit is about the approaches, tools, and techniques commonly used to achieving that.

The Dilemma

There was a piece of US research into customer service problems. The researchers found that:

  • The front-line producers/providers saw 100% of the problems - because they had to deal with them.
  • Their first line managers saw 75% of the problems - most but not all.
  • Middle management saw 9% of the problems
  • and Senior Management only 4%.

Professor Reg Revans put this dilemma in a nutshell - "who sees the problem, who owns the problem, and who has the power to do something about it - they are often quite different people".

This then is the dilemma.

The front-line staff and supervision see the problems and can see ways of preventing them re-occurring in future but lack the resources and effort. On the other hand the senior and middle managers can harness the resources and effort but don't and probably can't see the problems or the solutions.  Senior managers may see customer service as important or even vital in general terms (strategic issue), but in practice they themselves can often do little directly. Excellent customer service comes not through grand visions and strategies, although they may help, but through enormous attention to detail on numerous small events:

The difficulty for senior managers is that usually they don't see or hear about those - if they tried to they would become overwhelmed.

Improvement Processes

For most organisations the way out of this dilemma is to develop an internal improvement process - a recognised means of identifying and resolving weaknesses in service delivery and processes.

The first part of such an improvement process is some means of identifying, highlighting, and prioritising things that need to be improved. There are three commonly used approaches:

sources of improvement projects


A Management-driven "Top Down" Planning Approach

Using benchmarking (ISO9000), self-assessment (EFQM or Balanced Scorecard), possibly in conjunction with formal mission statements and improvement plans with performance targets and objectives.

A Customer-driven Approach

Where customer research is used to find out what customers require, how well we are meeting their requirements, and what difficulties they have dealing with us. This covers external customer research employing devices such as surveys and focus groups, and internal customer research where departments are charged with seeking feedback in their service from their customer departments inside the organisation, possibly linked with service level agreements.

A Front Line Staff-driven "Bottom-up" Approach

Where staff, possibly as part of their job description, are expected and encouraged to actively work on identifying areas which could be improved. Examples include suggestion schemes and quality circles.

All of these can be very successful, providing the commitment from both managers and staff is there. In practice, most organisations often use combinations of these.


The second part of such an improvement process is a means of organising people in the organisation to work together to tackle problems and introduce improvements. This is almost always done using some form of action teams - a group of staff formed into a project team - described in more detail in a further section.

Tackling these types of projects is the main focus of this toolkit which covers the approaches, tools, and techniques used by action teams when tackling such projects.