Business process improvement is both a skill and an art. It requires you to understand the methodological approach to defining improvement opportunities, and it also requires you to have a creative lens to challenge the way work is completed.
The core idea of process improvement is to redesign or change a process in a way that is delivers increased customer value while using fewer resources. To help you achieve this, there are various tools available that are geared towards process improvement, however for efforts to be truly effective and sustainable, an organization needs to change its mentality and build on the collaborative power of its employees.
So how can we approach process improvement to ensure that it develops and into a sustainable cultural transformation?
The problem is that in many organizations, people view process improvement initiatives as projects. Instead of seeing process improvement as a continuous journey of searching for improvements, people often view it as a singular event. To help you navigate your organization towards beginning the continuous improvement journey, I would like to explain the approach that my colleagues and I use.
1. Document and Organize
In the Document and Organize phase, we make the current state apparent by focusing on understanding how the work is currently done. In this stage, we use interviews and cross-functional process mapping sessions to develop a full understanding of the flow of work and information from the moment a customer inquiry is received until a product or service is delivered. This gives us the opportunity to see how various functions work together, how they add value, and where potential barriers or obstacles occur in the process.
By involving cross-functional stakeholders in this discussion, we are able to look at the process from different angles and identify opportunities, problems, constraints and hold-ups that exist in processes.
Once we have completed the process maps, we will review these processes with frontline workers to gain their insight into the processes and provide them with the opportunity to share their ideas on how processes can be improved. Through this collaboration, we gain insight as to how the process is actually completed on the floor as it faces the issues and obstacles that occur in reality.
After careful review of the current state maps and the identification of solutions that address various process opportunities, best practices can be developed to define a baseline for how work is supposed to be done.
This means that we establish the new norm for how the process should be completed across the organization. By establishing a new standard process, we can also introduce standards into the amount of effort or the resources required to complete the process. We can also introduce standards for the outcome we hope to achieve by completing the process. By clearly defining our expectations from the process, understanding how it is supposed to work, and the results it is supposed to achieve, we can begin to effectively manage and measure that process to identify variances in real-time.
Now comes the fun part of process improvement.
Once we are able to identify variances, we can start to quantify and prioritize corrective actions to systematically improve processes. This is where we implement the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle as we proactively identify, target and address the biggest issues that cause variances and hinder performance.
As new corrective measures are introduced, we incorporate these into processes and develop new best practices. Therefore, we establish new standard processes that are more robust, capable and responsive to the challenges they face.
The optimize part of this process can be explained as the drive required to restart the process. It is the voice that asks, “what’s next?”
Continuous improvement has the goal of providing perfect value to the customer by achieving zero waste: a perfect value creation process. Even though it may seem like an impossible goal, it is the vision that is required to keep moving forward in the continuous improvement journey. It’s the drive to find the next issue and achieve the next goal. And it is a mentality that we can always strive to reach perfection.
As I mentioned earlier, business process improvement is sustainable and effective when it becomes embedded in the culture of the organization. And to achieve this, it is crucial to have the support of leadership. Only organizational leaders can help to underline the importance of continuous improvement and incorporate it in the strategy of the organization to ensure the alignment of the organization.
I hope that you have found this piece useful in offering an approach towards building a culture of continuous improvement. I would love to hear your previous experiences in driving process improvements in your organization, and please feel free to reach out to me to discuss this topic in greater detail.