Between 2009 and 2011, the Center of Operations Excellence (COE) at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio implemented a process improvement plan that increased their average weekly MRIs from 86 to 112. According to Doug Dulin, the COE’s senior director, “That is good news for our patients and the physicians who are waiting on the results of those tests.”
In COE’s case, process improvement was used to save lives, but process improvement can also improve business operations and reduce waste (especially budget waste). In one other instance a regulated device company discovered it could save over $1 million annually simply by changing the way they manage change order documentation. By definition, process improvements should improve results of a process and by extension your business.
Remove all your roadblocks and increase the quality of your business operations by learning everything about process improvement and how to build your own improvement plan.
What is Process Improvement?
Process improvement fixes or streamlines the way a task is completed for a business. It does this by looking at the current business operation’s roadblocks, redundancies, and missing steps, and fixes each issue to create the optimum procedure based on the goal or key performance indicator (KPI) in question.
One main feature of process improvement is automation. Those looking to improve business operations should automate repetitive or redundant tasks to save time for more important manual tasks. In addition, process improvement has multiple positive impacts on your team, including:
- Increase the quality of work - Remove roadblocks and add quality checks to your process to see better results.
- Speed up time to completion - Find opportunities for concurrent or parallel work to save time each day.
- Boost the team quota - Increase the work each team member can do by automating repetitive work.
- Reduce waste - Find and eliminate places where time or material is being wasted to increase revenue.
Overall, process improvement is a way that businesses can streamline and fix broken, slow, or tedious business operations to increase revenue and job satisfaction.
5 Process Improvement Methodologies
One Google search can show you an unlimited number of process improvement methods. However, there are five time-tested and widely used methods.
The main goal for Six Sigma is to remove waste and mistakes from business operations. This method is famous for being highly organized and methodical in its approach to process improvement. There are certification levels—what Six Sigma refers to as “belts” (white, yellow, green, black, master black, and champion)—that teach you more about Six Sigma and allow you to tackle increasingly complex projects.
The main framework for Six Sigma depends on whether or not you are streamlining an existing process (DMAIC) or creating a new one altogether (DMADV).
When streamlining an existing process, you define, measure, analyze, improve, and control the problem process. The DMAIC method is ideal for improving an existing process. On the other hand, the DMADV method requires you to define, measure, analyze, design, and verify the process you are looking to create. This method works best for consumer relations management.
The Lean Method
While Six Sigma focuses on overall improvement, the idea behind the Lean Method (as its name implies) is to use as little time, money, and resources as possible. This process improvement methodology is like minimalism for business operations.
Any task or part of the process that can be eliminated without negatively impacting the final result is removed when using the Lean Method. This process is ideal for service-based businesses looking to save time, or product-based businesses looking to save money on materials and go green.
For example, Lean Construction is a type of Lean Methodology where construction businesses aim to waste less time and materials during a construction project. This reduces time and material usage through careful time management and planning. The end result is more money in their pockets as well as a smaller impact on the planet.
Total Quality Management
Naval Air Systems Command coined the term Total Quality Management (TQM) to describe its Japanese-style management approach to quality improvement, an approach in which they continually improve all processes. Continuous improvement is achieved by looking at how everything is connected and making overall changes rather than changes to one system at a time.
While many process improvement methodologies look at the problem in the context of an internal goal, the TQM approach focuses on improvement based on the customer’s expectations of the company. The principles and standards of quality management used in TQM are described in the ISO 9000 Series of Standards. These standards help companies document the steps needed to maintain quality in each system.
Created by Toyota Motor Corp., and also known as the Toyota Production System, the Just-in-Time Method is based on the idea of drastically reducing costs by only creating or buying what’s needed as it’s needed. In a perfect business setting, this results in zero waste and a positive cash flow.
However, one consideration with this method is that if you have surges in demand that impact your processes, this method could result in a backlog or inability to meet demand. Therefore, this production method is best for stable businesses with little to no random or seasonal fluctuation.
Kaizen is a Sino-Japanese word that means “improvement”. The Kaizen method makes small process improvements each day, week, or month that in turn create improvements in cash flow and efficiency over time. It is a process improvement methodology that focuses on constant improvement for every person and function in a business.
For example, while Six Sigma might focus on improving the manufacturing process, Kaizen focuses on improving manufacturing, processing, and logistics—a little at a time as an interconnected system. A downside to this process improvement method is that it is considered by many to be complex and intensive as it requires a full understanding of the business and, in theory, it should never stop. However, the upside is that this method can lead to better results than others in the long run.
How to Build a Process Improvement Plan
A process improvement plan should eliminate inefficiencies, reduce waste, and save time within business operations. How you build your process improvement plan will greatly depend on what methodology you’ve chosen to use. However, there is a general process that you should follow regardless of method.
- Pinpoint a process that needs improvement - Talk with your team or leadership to determine the issue(s).
- Analyze current outcomes and set new process goals - Use a quality management system to analyze the current problem and set new goals that will overcome it.
- Redesign your process to achieve improvement goals - Use your new goal in conjunction with your chosen methodology to redesign the current process.
- Implement your process improvement plan - Create a timeline for implementation and begin moving to the new process.
- Monitor and optimize for continuous improvement - Following most main methodologies, continually monitor the process for new ways to improve.
A McKinsey study found that 70% of change programs (like process improvement) fail regardless of size or industry. One main factor that often contributes to this is a lack of methodology or—figuring out how to do it before just doing it. So, when analyzing your problem, follow the framework of your chosen process improvement methodology to make sure you have the highest chance of success.
Critical Process Improvement Tools and Skills
While those working to improve processes internally don’t need certifications or special tools, certain skills, certifications, and tools can be useful for successful process improvement.
Skills Needed for Process Improvement
What skills you need for process improvement will vary greatly depending on the size of your organization and the scale at which you plan on implementing change. Some organizations offer certifications in process improvement methods like Six Sigma. These certifications are valuable tools that can help you get a new job or improve how you do your current job.
For example, an application for a process improvement position would greatly benefit from having Six Sigma Black Belt certification. However, you don’t need a certification to improve the processes within your business. And certifications aren’t the only thing that will assist you with process improvement. Other skills relevant to process improvement include:
- Team leadership - Guide your team during process improvement.
- Training others - Teach the members of your organization how to follow the new process.
- Communication - Actively listen to each person with input about the current and new process.
- Policy management - Understand what can and can’t change according to policy and law.
- Strategic planning - Organize change with logic and reason for the highest chance of success.
- Data analysis - Read and interpret vast amounts of data to improve your organization’s processes.
Overall, it’s important to consider soft skills that will help you work with your team and analytical skills that will help you see the process and find new ways to make it better.
Tools Used in Process Improvement Management
Finally, a few tools will greatly help you streamline processes, collaborate, and map everything out visually.
According to Trello, a popular kanban board software, a kanban board is “a visual method for managing and processing work.” These boards allow for the visualization of every task in a project or every part of a process. Using one of these during process management can help you limit the stages and reduce redundancies or unneeded tasks.
According to Mural, a visual collaboration software, scrum boards “foster teamwork, cooperation, and collaborative ideation and are effective as a communication tool.” Software options like Mural allow for digital collaboration on process improvement via stick notes, frameworks, and pictures—enabling your team to ideate and work smoothly.
Quality Management System
A quality management system, like ZenQMS, is a way to track the results of your process improvement and visualize the impact of your changes on your vital KPIs. For example, if you remove two steps from your customer management process, a ZenQMS can track if that improves time to resolution and if so, by how much.
Process improvement leads to an efficient business that can reach goals faster and with fewer errors. It can also lead to an increase an increase in net revenue.
If you’re interested in implementing a quality management system to improve your processes, book a demo with ZenQMS today.