Process Improvement

Process improvement is possible with the right commitment, methodology, tools, and resources.

process improvement planning

What is Process Improvement?

Process improvement, or "business process improvement (BPI)," can come in many forms. Motivated and engaged employees can improve the efficiency of business processes via informal, grassroots efforts. They may form self-organizing teams that design and implement solutions to improve process issues.

These organically-developed solutions can net real gains in productivity and efficiency. Whether it's a fairly new or old process that hasn't been updated in years, process improvement efforts can yield big gains in productivity, efficiency, accuracy, and more. In this post, we’ll go over common methods of process optimization and dissect some business process improvement examples.

Using a Process Improvement Framework

process improvement methodologyHowever, a formal process improvement framework, language, and a common platform allow everyone involved in the improvement effort to leverage the work done throughout the organization. Organizational process and workflow improvement projects proceed best with agreed-upon standardization. They may even benefit from the guidance of a business process (BPM) specialist who can develop frameworks, KPIs, and other critical aspects of the effort.

A dedicated, ongoing effort is called "continuous improvement, " allowing an organization to iterate and build on previous improvements. Sometimes, business analysts trained in Six Sigma drive these projects.

Process Improvement Methodologies

There are a variety of methodologies that help teams manage continual improvement. Here are just a few business process improvement examples.

BPM

We have an entire, free guide detailing how BPM works, but in a nutshell:

"Business Process Management (BPM) is the organizational discipline that provides tools and resources for analyzing, modeling, optimizing, monitoring, and controlling business processes and measuring and driving improved performance of interdependent business processes."

Often, BPM is confused with the software that helps implement improvements in business processes, but in reality, it's a practice, not software.

Kaizen

"Kaizen" refers to a system of continuous improvement that occurs by means of incremental change. We've also written a bit about Kaizen, especially regarding workflow automation. It can help you eliminate errors, enhance compliance, and improve the internal transparency of your organization.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma refers to a set of management techniques that seek to improve business processes by reducing the likelihood of an error. Six Sigma focuses on empirical, data-driven methods and usually consists of project team members steeped in the Six Sigma discipline, similar to BPM. Six Sigma is one of the most popular business process improvement frameworks today.

Process Maps

Process mapping involves laying out a series of tasks and events/actions that illustrate the entire scope of a process from start to finish. Often, specialized shapes are used in a process map to represent specific types of tasks/events, which are connected to show progress from task to task. LucidChart has a nice write-up on this method.

5 Whys

Originating in the 1970s at Toyota, the 5 Whys method is a simple way of getting to the root of any problem. The idea is to identify a problem and then ask "Why?" five times.

For instance:

Why was the entry made late?

Because we didn't have the correct information on time.

Why?

Because purchasing was late delivering it.

Why?

Because they were waiting on a pricing discount approval.

Why?

...

You get the idea. Learn more about the 5 Whys here.

PDCA

PDCA stands for Plan-Do-Check-Act. It's a cycle used for project planning and is a model for initiating organizational change. Read more here.

Lean Process Improvement

Lean process improvement minimizes waste and maximizes efficiency when improving business processes. Read more here.


How to Standardize Processes for Continuous Improvement


Business Process Improvement Example

Any process can be put through a rigorous process audit and improvement effort. In the example below, we're looking at a Claims Submission process. We've used process mapping to break down the process steps into tasks, connected those tasks to simulate the process flow, and arranged them in swim lanes to show responsibility.

Process Improvement Diagram

Once the documented process is socialized with all stakeholders and confirmed, it can be moved into a process automation platform.

Process Improvement Tools

Because process improvement should be an ongoing organizational strength (and not a one-time improvement effort), every organization can benefit from the adoption of a workflow or process management solution. Consider the following criteria when selecting a tool:

  • How quickly will this system allow us to define and build improved workflows?
  • What staff resources do we need to build workflows? IT, DevOps, Business Users?
  • What existing systems do we need to integrate into improved workflows?
  • Functional considerations:

Tips for Improving Your Processes

From our blog post, "8 Steps to Improve Any Process," here are some quick tips to ensure your processes operate at peak efficiency.

  • Choose a specific process to review.
    To improve your processes, start by staying organized and focusing on one process at a time during your process audit. Avoid getting overwhelmed by trying to tackle all your processes, steps, and flows simultaneously.
  • Break down the process steps into tasks.
    Analyze the process, list the tasks, and connect them in a flow-like view. Note who is responsible, where the task goes after approval, who needs to sign the necessary documents, etc. This information will be useful later.
  • Connect those tasks to simulate the process flow.
    After listing out all the tasks, take some time to carefully review them. Can any of the steps be combined or shortened? Conversely, is there anything that needs to be added? Arrange the tasks in a logical sequence from the first step to the last step to see how they flow and what needs to be done at each stage.
  • Arranged them in swim lanes to show responsibility.
    Divide tasks into swim lanes - vertical sections in the image, such as agent, claims clerk, claims manager, etc. Review task flow to update responsibilities while enhancing processes.
  • Find bottlenecks.
    Without proper review and visibility, it's hard to spot bottlenecks in processes. Ensure every task has a subsequent step assigned to someone for smooth flow. For instance, the claims manager may not have a defined step for handling claims needing more info, causing frequent bottlenecks.
  • Implement training.
    You may find multiple bottlenecks in your processes. Update and streamline the workflow by bringing departments together. Share the flow diagram to ensure understanding. Train those in charge with new task responsibilities after implementing changes.
  • Practice continuous improvement.
    Proceeding with the above steps, don't just assume this process will now forever be running smoothly. A dedicated, ongoing effort to maintain proper flow is called "continuous improvement" and allows an organization to iterate and build on previous improvements.
  • Lean on Process Automation.
    Consider process automation to improve efficiency. Use business rules and automation to ensure process consistency. Once optimized, provide standard procedures or automate simple tasks in a process automation platform.

Avoiding Risk in Your Improvement Initiatives

Even with the right tools, there is no guarantee of success without considering the risks. We've written on risk avoidance, and you can view the full article here: "5 Ways to Avoid Risk in Process Automation Projects." In a nutshell, you need to consider the following aspects for your improvement project.

  • Have a clear strategy.
  • Prepare for change resistance.
  • Ensure the proper resources are in place.
  • Choose the right leader.
  • Identify expected outcomes.

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Looking for a Process Improvement platform? Integrify has been providing process automation software for over twenty years for some of the largest companies in the world.

We have a variety of resources to help you on your journey to an automated workflow. 

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