Process Improvement

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

 

 process improvement methodologies illustrated

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 process or an old process that hasn't been updated in years, process improvement efforts can yield big gains in productivity, efficiency, accuracy, and more.

Using a Process Framework

process improvement methodologyHowever, a formal process improvement framework, language, and a common platform allows everyone involved in the improvement effort to leverage the work being done throughout the organization. Organizational process and workflow improvement projects proceed best with agreed-upon standardization and 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" and allows 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.

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 for 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 as it relates to 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 occurring. Six Sigma focuses on empirical, data-driven methods and, similar to BPM, usually consists of project team members steeped in the Six Sigma discipline.

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 change in an organization. Read more here.

Lean Process Improvement

Lean process improvement minimizes waste and maximizes efficiency when looking to improve business processes. Read more here.

Process Improvement Example

Any process can be put through a rigorous process 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 s do we need to integrate with as part of improved workflows?
  • Functional considerations:
    • Easy visual tools for process diagrams, with the ability to capture appropriate data along with the objects in the flow chart or diagram
    • Built-in process for designing, editing, approving, and publishing new processes or workflows
    • Data capture/forms capability to allow workflows to bridge existing enterprise application gaps
    • KPI tracking and reporting that provides easy to understand charts along with direct access to the underlying data for further analysis

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 the topic of 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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