Continuous business process improvement. Seems obvious, right?
We all want to get better. We all want to be more efficient. We all like to think that our business processes are solid.
But we also know how easy it is to “do things the way we’ve always done it.”
Evaluating your business processes – systemically reviewing them to ensure they’re efficient and effective — is the only way to know if they are working to your best advantage.
It’s a review well worth doing, even if it shows that the ‘’way you’ve always done it’’ is, in fact, not bad at all.
Incremental and breakthrough improvements
Continuous process improvement may involve a big “breakthrough” change, but it doesn’t have to. The changes can be — and most often are — incremental, tweaks to your workflow that can be incorporated relatively easily.
In fact, incremental changes that provide long-term benefits are a primary focus of continuous business process improvement.
The goal is a culture of improvement
Like the metaphorical first step that begins a long journey, a discrete event often triggers the review that leads to continuous improvement. People start the process when they notice something is amiss: delays in delivery, or an increase in waste.
Almost invariably what they’re seeing is a symptom. Continuous improvement models help to analyze the issue, get to the root cause, and correct the problem.
But the ultimate goal is to go beyond that problem and create a workplace culture that welcomes continuous process improvement. Process improvement should be ongoing, not a one-off.
The benefits range from reduced costs and increased quality to more satisfied customers and even happier employees because employee involvement is key to improving business processes.
Four steps in process improvement
There are a variety of business process improvement models. They have their own terminology, diagrams and steps to follow, but they essentially revolve around the four steps of the well-known PDCA cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act.
- Plan: Analyze the problem.
- Do: Develop a strategy to fix it and implement it on a small scale.
- Check: Incorporate measurements to see if the change is working.
- Act: Implement successful changes throughout system.
Some of the well-known improvement systems are Lean Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, and Kaizen quality circles. They enlist employees and teamwork in the effort to measure and improve your business.
What should I look for when selecting continuous process improvement tools?
Data automation software and programs that analyze your workflow, map and help to manage your business processes are important tools in this effort. Here are features to consider when looking for software:
- Business process mapping: Mapping your workflow helps you to fully picture how things work in your organization. Problem areas may become obvious simply by charting your business processes.
- Process management: Programs that route tasks and track progress can help to ensure that things keep working the way you want.
- Performance analytics: You’ll want to know how your revamped processes are performing. The right software can give you the answers you need.
- Easy to use: Finding a program that is intuitive and easy to use means you’ll spend less time and money training people to use it — time and money that counts against your bottom line.
Is outside help a good idea?
The idea of an outside consultant can be off-putting. Don’t let it be.
There are advantages to bringing help in from outside your organization, especially when you’re getting starting with process analysis and implementing a continuous improvement model.
For one thing, you’ll be hiring an expert in businesses processes and someone who can find the software best suited to your company and situation; software you can use to define your processes, streamline your workflow and incorporate an ongoing review.
They also bring “fresh eyes” to your organization and can objectively explore issues, free from internal politics, personal loyalties, and the cliques common to every workplace.
And they can go to where the work is being done.
That’s the concept of Gemba. Japanese for ”the actual place.”
Your consultant can dig deep into your organization, talk to the people at all levels who do the work, gather their ideas of what works and what doesn’t, and collect their suggestions for improvements.
Employee involvement is key
Employee involvement is critical to improving your business processes. Simply put, you don’t make changes. They do.
Your job is to keep the review process going and identify the changes that will make your business better. Your employees hold the key to the success of those changes, whether the changes are tweaks to the system or breakthrough improvements.
You not only want to involve employees from the start, you need to give them the tools and the training to implement a change.
As mentioned above, if you’re bringing new software to the workplace, look for programs that are easy to use and still get the job done. Adding complicated software on top of workflow changes will only frustrate your employees, increase their anxiety, and work against the changes you need to make.
Embracing change makes for an agile organization
Change is hard. Undoubtedly.
But is also good — and necessary.
Nearly 7o percent of companies focus their improvements on increasing efficiency and cutting costs.
But becoming a business that’s always looking to do things better means more than just improved efficiency and profits. It means becoming a business that’s agile and able to adapt quickly to the demands of the marketplace.
It’s becoming a business that’s not afraid of change.