Nothing is indeed perfect. But, business processes can get better and better over time, given the right approach. By being able to define process improvement and proactively practice it, you can help to enhance your organisation’s productivity and meet the best quality standards possible.
Here, we will outline everything you need to know about what process improvement means. We’ll move from a clear definition to popular techniques and all the reasons why it’s so important to do.
What is Process Improvement?
When we define Process improvement (or business process improvement, BPI), it’s the method of identifying, analysing and improving business processes already in existence. There are a variety of approaches to fulfil process improvement, but overall, the methodology is meant to lead to optimisation. The systematic approach is a methodology that is intended to be performed iteratively rather than a one-and-done deal. This is because processes may run into different forms of inefficiency or issues along the way. When you can find aspects to improve upon, then business process improvement gives you the steps to do so successfully.
Business process improvement is also referred to as: business process management and continual improvement or continuous process improvement, to name a few.
Benefits of Process Improvement
If the word “improvement” exists in the name of the approach, then you already know it should make your business better. But, when you understand how many benefits process improvement can provide, then it is even more clear why you should adopt one of the techniques for your organisation. Let’s take a look at what Business Process Improvement means for your organisation:
- Better performance (productivity): Process improvement helps to locate areas of inefficiency within a process. Once it is adjusted, the significant benefit is that productivity is enhanced. Additionally, there are software tools that help to measure how productivity has increased. For example, if you use an automation tool like SolveXia to carry out processes, then you can easily track metrics through real-time data and live dashboards.
- Better product quality: With process improvement, one step is to test processes before implementing changes. Doing so can help an organisation test product quality, security and performance before advancing to production.
- Increased employee satisfaction: When internal processes are failing to meet needs, employees lose morale. With better designed and monitored processes, employees can complete their work as expected and reap the rewards (less frustration, errors and higher quality outputs).
- Competitive advantage: As you continue to improve your processes, the outcomes become better. This means that you can differentiate your business from competitors by providing higher quality, potentially lower costs and better service to customers to gain a competitive advantage.
What Process Improvement Does & Key Concepts
Process improvement varies depending on your technique and needs. Yet, regardless of how you approach making your processes better, a lot can come from the practice. The core of process improvement works to meet market demands and achieve business goals (while minimising waste). Process improvement does this by helping leaders recognise inefficiency and make adjustments that align with desired outcomes.
Here are some improvements you can expect to see:
- More efficient workflows (removal of redundancies)
- Addition of approvals to quality assure products/services
- Increased use and benefits of automation
- Optimised user experience
- Decreased processing time
- Software integration to automatically create organisational structures
To drive results forward, process improvement relies on a clear direction and management. It’s time to get to the juicy details and dive into various process improvement techniques.
Process Improvement Techniques
The moment you’ve been waiting for - we are going to dish some details about some of the most popular process improvement techniques. Each methodology is aimed towards a different need. Some set the focus of process improvement on your organisation’s culture and open-mindedness to change. Others focus more on visualising process through flowcharts and process mapping.
While there isn’t just one method that will work for each process, you’ll likely find yourself drawn to one over the other depending on the inefficiency you are looking to reduce.
Let’s get to it!
- Kaizen: Kaizen is a lean methodology that focuses on long-term overall business goals rather than short-term financial outcomes. The goal is to improve the productivity, quality and efficiency of a team through small and continuous shifts in daily routines or corporate culture. Ultimately, Kaizen is meant to produce a team that is well-equipped to be agile and adaptive, reduce errors and prevent them from occurring over time.
- PDCA: Also known as the Deming cycle or control cycle, PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It’s an excellent methodology to locate the processes that need improvement. It works by following the cycle of planning (finding the problem), doing (implementing the solution), checking (reviewing data) and acting (documenting and implementing results if all goes well during the checking stage).
- Six Sigma: Developed by Motorola in 1986, Six Sigma is a management ideology. It works to assess qualitative measures over time. It’s based on a statistical benchmark that considers an efficient process to be one that produces less than 3.4 defects in 1 million chances. It’s also a training course where employees move up ranks, from green to a black belt.
- Cause and Effect Analysis: Born from Six Sigma, Cause and Effect Analysis use diagrams to find and fix problems. The problem could be from a system, piece of equipment, person or external forces. The ideal is that the problem will be found and fixed before the process continues to run on and on.
- Value Stream Mapping (VSM): One of the most important aspects of any business is its customers. Customers expect to be satisfied by buying your product or service. Value stream mapping works to represent how a customer derives value from your organisation visually. To maximise their value, it helps to pinpoint where you can reduce waste or redundancy to keep your organisation running as lean as possible.
- Total Quality Management (TQM): Total Quality Management looks at the overall long-term success of a business based on customer satisfaction. The methodology is based on creating a company culture that aligns all employees with achieving business goals. It also empowers employees to feel comfortable that if they make a mistake, they can find ways to resolve it by being prepared and unafraid.
- Kanban: The first Kanban system was developed by an industrial engineer working for Toyota in Japan in the 1940s. Kanban is a visual representation of the workflow, as well as an optical system to see a process in action. From supplier to the end product, Kanban aims to increase productivity, control the process and avoid bottlenecks and waste. Overall, Kanban can be applied to any business or process to manage and improve the workflow.
- Process Mapping: Process mapping is the act of documenting a process from start to finish in a flowchart. It helps to showcase how a process gets from input to output so that everyone can be on the same page. It also makes it easier to find areas that need to be improved.
- 5S: As a part of Kaizen and Lean methodologies, 5S stands for: sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain. It can help set standardisation for process improvement.
Getting Started with Process Improvement
Once you’ve chosen your methodology, you’ll be ready to get started with process improvement. Keep in mind these best practices and steps:
- Choose the process you want to improve. Involve the team who manages the process day today to help identify what needs to be adjusted.
- Brainstorm ideas for how you can make the process better.
- Importantly, make a note of how you will measure if your changes are improving the process. This requires identifying key performance indicators and tracking them through data and analytics.
- Continue to monitor the outcome. Analyse if things have gotten better. Continually revisit the process to ensure it is functioning optimally.
Process Improvement Tips & Strategy
While it’s true, there is a lot to take in and decide when to implement process improvement; there are ways to break it down into areas of focus. Keep in mind these essential tips and strategic tidbits of advice:
- Customers: Always consider your customers to be a priority. You can work to understand your customer’s needs and opinions by conducting surveys and asking for feedback. You can also take a look at customer support tickets and ask your team to evaluate what they think customers feel about the business. Once you find out what customers are lacking, you can apply these needs improving processes to meet them.
- Employees: By engaging your employees, everyone benefits. Employees are on the front line and in the trenches doing the work every day, so their insights are vital to process improvement. Also, by incorporating them in the methodology, they have a sense of ownership over the outcome.
- Management: Often, to implement any form of process improvement, it’ll involve buy-in from leadership and stakeholders. This is where automation solutions and data can play majorly in your advantage. By being able to showcase what needs to be fixed and how you’ll do it, people will feel more confident in supporting changes.
Process Improvement Steps
With any technique you choose to approach process improvement, you’ll follow this blueprint of steps:
- Map: Create a visual representation of the process (process mapping, or flowchart)
- Analyse: Assess which pieces (steps, actions or people) that require improvement.
- Redesign: Decide what changes you’ll make to the process. Determine metrics for success and who is responsible.
- Implement: Test the new process on a small scale. Once you’ve proved it achieves what you had hoped for, then roll it out.
- Review: Take a look at metrics and analytics to ensure that the change was for the better. If not, revisit the steps starting with “redesign.”
Automation and Process Improvement
You are likely already aware of how automation software can help to make your processes run as efficiently as possible. Along with running processes for you and decreasing human error, automation and process improvement go hand-in-hand.
Through the use of robotic process automation (RPA), processes can be improved to help streamline tasks and prevent issues before they occur. Some examples of how RPA can aid process improvement include: automated email processing, categorising help desk tickets, data transformation between systems, and online order processing. Automation solutions like SolveXia can help your team maximise productivity ten-fold.
By reducing manual labour and critical person dependencies, processes can run seamlessly. SolveXia can piece together information from various systems and store data in a centralised location. Furthermore, besides running and improving processes, automation tools can help to track and analyse progress. You can even forecast what outcome is likely based on tweaks to a process today. That way, you can make better decisions while performing process improvement to optimise your success rates.
Automation tools exist to manage the day-to-day repetitive tasks so that your employees can focus their time on high-level tasks like analytical thinking and decision-making.
Process Improvement Training
It’s best to have someone on your team who is certified in process improvement. This is doable through online courses that teach whatever methodology you’re interested in applying.
Some examples of resources to find process improvement training include Learning Tree International, Udemy, Watermark Learning and Coursera.
Furthermore, you can always rely on support teams from your chosen automation solution. To illustrate, SolveXia’s team is here to help you design, test and roll out efficient processes. We offer resources, including our blog, support team, FAQs, whitepapers, videos, webinars and more.
Once you fully understand what process improvement means for your business, as you go forward, it is essential to choose processes wisely, involve your team, test potential solutions and analyse outcomes. Automation solutions should be utilised to maximise process improvement and add a data-backed layer to verify that your efforts are worthwhile.