Business processes have always been a personal and professional fascination. Never being one to "drink the Kool-Aid" without first understanding all competing theories, I have read the touchstone books in the field (think John Kotter) and I have formally studied different methods of process improvement strategies like Lean, Six Sigma, and Business Process Trends, among others, throughout my education and time at BerryDunn.
In practice, I have found that businesses rarely run into a business process problem and think, “I need X method to solve this!” Instead, businesses tend to set goals for improvement and then look for a method to meet those goals. Where to begin?
There are many commonalities between the leading business process improvement methods. One method may serve you better than others, depending on your specific challenge, but you can determine a starting point for almost any problem if you take a high-level look at the shared themes between the methods. I have identified several focal points below that can help inform your thinking about how you wish to tackle your business process challenges.
- Identify the process: It may seem obvious to identify the problem, but people usually think of the failed outcome, not the failed process. How do you define the process? A valuable tool in the process improvement world is process mapping. Process maps help create a visual representation of what inputs are required throughout the life of the process.
- Optimize your measurement: We live in a world with data at our fingertips, but what matters is how we make decisions based on the data. Use the data to find out which changes in a process could affect the overall quality the most. Is your key measurement based on something you can measure? Is it time? Is it distance? Is it errors?
- Create and test: Once you have identified specific pain points of a process and gathered your data and analytics, you can begin developing an improvement strategy. Create hypotheses on how to correct the pain points and work through all possible outcomes.
- Rally management and leadership: Successful organizational change or process improvement needs management’s buy-in, as well as a project leader. This support and leadership allows you to better control and guide process improvements. Accountability and ownership of a business process improvement endeavor provides the drive to complete a project successfully.
- Sustain success: Take time to build policies and procedures to support the improvement. Remember to continually revisit the process to help ensure the success is sustained. Living in Maine amid harsh winters, I compare this theme to maintaining a road. New roads take time, money, and a lot of effort to build and, after time, the once-smooth road needs to be cleaned, patched, and repaired. The point is that just because you improve a process, the process may not remain smooth without further effort.
- Teamwork: The last common theme found among the popular process improvement methods is the requirement that you work in a team. This encompasses every “phase” of the process improvement project. Not only does this help everyone involved understand the full spectrum of the process and where weaknesses occur, but it aids in building a new process that the group and organization can identify as their own.
Business process improvement projects can be a daunting task. It is tempting to think they will be too difficult to follow through to completion. This is where a solid understanding of change and project management techniques can help you find and use tools to help guide the project, keeping you on the road to success.