Transformational improvement always requires cross-functional teams

Transforming organisations always requires doing new things in new ways – newprocesses, new organisations, new systems etc.  It is vital that the improvement process develops a design that works across functional silos.  This pattern of working is established right at the start of the improvement project in the planning stage.

Too often improvement projects are given to project managers who lack this insight.  To develop the project plan they ask the functional experts to develop their workpackage plans and then they integrate these in to the overall plan.  The opportunity for real cross-functional improvement is lost because the functional plans only deliver small improvements within the existing functions.

For example, I have seen manufacturing improvement projects which have created sub-teams around planning, production management, manufacturing engineering, quality engineering etc.  The real fundemental opportunities for improvement are not addressed because each function plays it safe.

I have seen the same happen for IT projects, with sub-projects being created around the core disciplines of data modelling, business requirements, technical architecture, information architecture etc.  In this case, each discipline develops their own proposals and it is very difficult to produce an integrated solution because there is very little common ground in each element.

To provide the real opportunity for transformational improvement, it is vital that the project is planned as a whole from a cross-functional perspective using a single multi-disciplinary team.  The planning should initially focus on the end deliverables – normally a member of staff who has been trained to perform new tasks using new tools and equipment.  The planning should think through how the new work, tools etc will be developed and delivered.  The first major milestone of the project is likely to be a cross-functional design which can then be developed in detail by each function.

Always ensure that your improvement is really transformational by ensuring that the existing functions and disciplines work together to break new ground rather than staying within their functional comfort zones.