December 14, 2020 — When I was consulting for a living I used a methodology that I developed over my career that I felt embodied my work. Over the course of 30+ years in the workforce I have been fortunate to see and experience many different types of businesses and the problems they face. P.A.P.E.R. is an acronym for a five-step process to enhance any business or subset within a business, but could really be used in many areas including our personal lives. In summary, the five steps are:

In order to change and improve we have to ask questions and understand people and processes. Sometimes these are the tough questions and the answers can be scary. We may even know the answers which is why people often avoid asking those questions but someone has to be willing to ask them. Without understanding current situations and goals, we cannot improve.

Once we have asked the right questions, we must analyze the data and use it to make our decisions. Informed decisions based on information and facts will help guide a team to the ultimate goal of improvement, at whatever scale that is desired. One of the greatest mistakes is to judge something by its intentions rather than its results, so analyzing those answers is crucial to the next step.

With answers to our questions and having applied careful thought to the conclusions, we can now plan the next steps to implementing the process improvement. A written plan is best so it can be shared with team members. A plan usually changes and evolves throughout the process, so it is helpful to see it written and how it changes or evolves over time and throughout the process.

Executing a plan is often the most difficult step. Many obstacles can surface and often times these obstacles are either your own personnel, vendors, or other outside factors we did not foresee. Obstacles and improvisation are usually the two biggest factors that cause a plan to not execute well. Improvisation during the execution phase should generally be for one of two reasons. The first reason is that an obstacle cannot be overcome so you are forced to find an alternate and adequate solution and not allow it to stall the execution. The second reason is to see opportunity for improvement during the execution phase. However, one must be able to discern between true improvement versus someone’s desire to impact them rather than the entire team or process. Avoid being drawn down a rabbit hole.

The final step to improving a company or process is to repeat all the previous steps. As soon as a project is finished, one must ask themselves, “Now that we are finished, how can we make this better?” Return to the Probe step and start over, but do so with a certain amount of caution. Changing things for the sake of change alone is unhealthy for organizations, teams, people, and processes. Not all ideas are good ideas and just because someone has an idea, doesn’t mean it should be either ignored or implemented.

P.A.P.E.R. is a simple five-step process to improve most anything and if you really think about it, P.A.P.E.R. really can be applied to most anything in life.

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