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How to ensure your admin improvement projects stick

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in Admins,Office Management

How many times are you asked to make improvements to administrative processes without any real guidance on what to do or where to start?

This has happened to me so many times throughout my career as an Executive Assistant! However, I was lucky enough to work with some consultants who were trained in Lean and Six Sigma methodologies used for business improvement projects.

One such tool is DMAIC which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

The DMAIC process makes you work through specific activities in a defined structure so that any changes you make to a process will be successful.

Define: The purpose of the first stage of the DMAIC process is to define what the project actually is.

This includes a short description about the project; why the improvement needs to be made; some background on the problem; what is included in the scope of the project and what is not; the benefits of improving the process; and who is involved in the project and who are the key stakeholders.

Within the define phase, assistants should also look at setting up a plan for delivery and agree with their managers on how success will be measured. During my hotel accommodation project, I used the define phase to focus solely on hotel accommodation and not travel costs or any other costs related to my department. I also wrote a project charter, which helped me stay focused during the project.

Measure: This part of the process is all about data gathering to ensure that the improvements are successful and not just a quick-fix solution.

The measurement phase includes observing what already happens; gathering any data to help form an opinion on the process; speaking to others and gaining their opinions; mapping the process in more depth; understanding what really needs to be improved and what will make a real difference.

When I was asked to look at how we could reduce the cost of hotel accommodation in my department, I used the measure stage of the project to interview everyone whether or not they booked accommodation, and I asked a series of questions regarding the process.

Analyze: The purpose of this phase is to make sense of all of the information and data collected in the previous stage of the process (measure) and to confirm the source of the ­problem.

Here are some questions you should be asking yourself during this phase of the project: What are the root causes of the problem? Where should we focus our efforts on making the improvements? Have all the problems been uncovered?

Improve: This is where you actually start to make the changes necessary to improve the process.

At this point, improvements can be made, tested and implemented. During this stage of my hotel project, I held a number of brainstorming sessions to identify a range of possible solutions and review existing proc­­esses that might help improve the hotel booking system.

The improvement phase is great because it ensures that the team does not get stuck with the same old solutions; there are new solutions that have been thoroughly researched and relate to real problems; and piloting of the solutions can take place before a final process is implemented.

Control: The final phase of the DMAIC process is there to make sure that any improvements will last.

This means that the new process should be documented and communicated to those affected by the changes you have made. The control phase will also help you to make sure there is no backsliding into old habits; you can react to any future problems; and you can share the learning with other departments in your company.

Although the DMAIC approach to business improvement is a long process, it is brilliant at ensuring the changes you make to the administration in the company are well thought through and that they last. Each phase can be worked through fairly quickly and can be used for small requests to real departmental change.


Nicky Christmas is the founder of www.practicallyperfectpa.com, a website dedicated to the support and development of assistants throughout the world. Nicky blogs about her experiences and knowledge, which has grown over the last decade working her way up from a Junior Administrator through to an Executive Assistant and Marketing Manager at a global events company.

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