“You never reach perfection because there’s always room for improvement. Yet along the way to perfection, you’ll learn to get better.“
Every business has the potential to become better — sometimes, a lot better. Process improvement is the key to making this happen, helping you execute better processes and raising your organization’s effectiveness.
But how does your company go about this?
What are the best techniques and methods to achieve this transformational change?
That’s where this guide comes into the picture. Keep reading to learn how to implement continuous process improvement to eliminate inertia and old habits, root out inefficiencies, and boost employee productivity.
What is process improvement?
Process improvement is the proactive approach to identifying, evaluating, and improving existing business processes to ensure continual improvement. It allows you to better meet best practice standards, improve workflow or output quality, optimize team performance, and deliver streamlined end-user experiences.
What is a process improvement methodology? You can implement process improvement by following a set of distinct methodologies (there are several) to analyze your current processes and optimize them to improve outcomes like increased profitability and reduced inefficiencies.
Process improvement examples
Here are some process improvement examples and ideas to help you identify opportunities, constraints, or challenges in your processes:
- Duplicate reporting.
- System downtime in manufacturing facilities.
- Unused product inventory.
- Excessive email or Slack communication.
- Time-consuming approval processes.
- Disempowered, single-task employees.
- Unnecessarily lengthy processes with non-bailable hours.
After applying specific process improvement methodologies, you should achieve one or more of the following process improvement goals:
- Better quality products.
- Faster delivery cycles or billing cycles.
- Improved service offerings.
- Increased efficiency in production.
- Reduced costs.
Need more proof? We'll go deeper into key process improvement benefitsl in the next section.
Why a process improvement methodology is important
Process improvement methodologies have several benefits. It creates opportunities to help you spot and improve challenges in your processes that could be disturbing your internal production, hurting customer experience, and disrupting other business goals. By implementing a process improvement methodology successfully, you can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your business strategy.
Here are some of the most prominent benefits of process improvement:
Boost in operational productivity
The daily monotony of work (think: filling out forms, running reports) not only takes several hours to complete but also frustrates employees.
In fact, a study found employees spend an average of nearly 520 hours a year performing repetitive tasks and activities that could easily be automated.
That’s 520 hours that could be put to better use.
With process improvement, you can eliminate redundant steps and re-engineer workflows with highly effective techniques to make them more efficient.
Of course, you’ll have to introduce specialized software and application to automate these tasks, which can be costly. But the time saved allows employees to focus on more important tasks, leading to higher production capacity and faster delivery.
More effective & efficient operations
Another benefit of process improvement is it’s designed to make operations more effective and efficient.
Implementing the methodology will help you remove unnecessary tasks and time-consuming components—anything with negligible outcomes, really. It's one of the main reasons why continual process improvement in IT is encouraged.
What’s more, if you don’t implement these programs formally, you can still identify improvement and optimization opportunities as long as you comprehend the concept and value behind process methodologies.
Reduced risks & costs
In most organizations, non-IT employees perform various data entry tasks. This often involves transferring data between systems manually, which creates room for plenty of mistakes and the risk of fraud that takes several hours to fix.
Process improvement allows you to identify activities you can easily automate. Not only does this helps you minimize human error, but it also boosts security measures to protect company assets and data. It also pinpoints unnecessary spending of essential resources, helping you apply highly effective solutions that generate the best output at the lowest possible cost.
Moreover, cutting costs through process improvement is also ideal when customer acquisition becomes more challenging.
Results in higher customer satisfaction
Customers want to work with businesses with an updated and advanced tech stack — 90 percent of them to be precise.
Updating tech solutions to minimize the time spent performing administrative activities is an important aspect of process improvement. It leaves employees with more time to focus on creating and nurturing long-term relationships with customers and clients.
Employees become more capable of responding to your customers' requests in real time and providing customized solutions faster. They have a lot of time to build better proposals and focus on valuable tasks that deliver measurable results—all of which eventually enhance customer satisfaction.
Process improvement also cuts down delivery times. Thanks to higher output and swift delivery, you can get your product into your customer’s hands quickly. Customers are always in a hurry, so if you take the initiative to serve them faster, they are more likely to return for a repeat experience.
All the benefits we discussed before—productivity boost, efficient processes, reduced costs, and satisfied customers—have a positive impact on your company’s profitability.
Process improvement puts you in a better position to maintain your current price levels and generate more money—and the more money you have, the better you can finance or refinance business operations. You won’t have to rely heavily on investors or banks for financing, which is a huge benefit for surviving (and thriving) in the long run.
If your company finds it difficult to ensure compliance due to the lack of a flexible system capable of addressing end-to-end compliance, we have good news: implementing process improvement methodologies fosters compliance, saving you from unforeseen or unanticipated penalties.
Process improvement integrates compliance into all business processes, effectively documenting compliance-related policies, procedures, and internal controls. This helps foster transparency and allows you to implement all regulatory requirements effectively and prevent delays in compliance and fines.
Creates innovative, higher-quality products
While process improvement primarily eliminates wastage, it also identifies better ways of performing specific tasks and activities.
Most of the innovations you implement may look small, but all the small changes together help you invent a brand-new way of completing or doing something. This eventually leads to dramatic improvements that give you a competitive advantage over your competitors.
When you improve processes and install advanced apps and software, you ultimately produce higher-quality products without putting in the extra effort.
Firstly, you make fewer mistakes that result in massive gains in labor, material, and customer perception. Fewer customer returning products further contribute to positive customer experiences.
Secondly, customers perceive your brand to be of high quality, helping boost your company's reputation and bringing a lot of business through repeat purchases and referrals.
6 Process improvement methodologies for your business
Your team can adopt various methodologies to tackle process improvement, where each technique is designed to simplify identifying process issues, fixing them, and analyzing their impact (whether positive or negative).
Note that while the goal is common, each methodology suits a different need. Some frameworks prioritize getting the company culture in the right place; others focus on lean process improvement techniques. There are also methodologies to visualize the process workflow mapping.
Here are the main process improvement methodologies you can consider implementing for your company:
Six Sigma is arguably the most popular process improvement methodology that pulls employees through the ranks categorized using karate belts, with the belt colors representing the employees’ level of framework understanding. For instance, new employees start as a white belt holder and move their way up to the most advanced stage: the coveted black belt.
Under this technoque, process improvement is broken down into two unique ways through specific steps:
- DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, verify).
- DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control).
DMADV is suitable for new processes, while DMAIC is for existing processes. Regardless of the approach you take, following this methodology can help you optimize for consistency, minimize defects, and improve customer satisfaction.
Also known as lean production or just-in-time production, lean manufacturing focuses on reducing wastage for effective cost-cutting.
To get started, you have to evaluate the targeted process’s value stream, which comprises several value-added activities, including the specific actions that specific customers would pay for and non-value-added activities required to complete an order or bring a concept to fruition.
Any action that doesn’t add value or isn’t needed as part of a policy or regulation is a waste. Examples include raw materials not required to handle current orders, periods of interruptions or inactivity during production, and underusing skills and knowledge your workers or team possess.
Kaizen is a proven process improvement methodology that strives for continuous improvement across the company.
The core of this technique is to create a company culture that encourages employees at all levels to identify, suggest, and implement process improvements. This includes action steps like:
- Setting and stating business object goals.
- Reviewing current processes.
- Implementing process changes.
- Reviewing changes and optimizing them as necessary.
- Documenting and reporting results.
The 5S technique is part of the Lean and Kaizen methodologies that focuses on making continuous and rapid improvements. It’s based on the following five principles to make employees more efficient and effective in their work:
- Sort: Keep only what is regularly or frequently used within reach.
- Straighten: Organize things in a way so that what’s needed can be found within 30 seconds.
- Shine: Ensure all equipment and the workplace are ready for quick use always.
- Standardize: Perform each job, activity, or task similarly and encourage others to suggest ways to enhance or improve it.
- Sustain: Create an efficient, highly effective, and safe workplace.
Implementing the 5S model will ultimately bring more consistency to process improvement in your organization.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
TQM is a customer-focused method that involves the whole company to ensure continual improvement. It relies heavily on data-driven decisions and performance metrics, where you use success metrics during problem-solving to determine how to improve a process.
Note that the main goal of TQM is to improve processes and reduce inefficiencies and effects.
Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)
PDCA is an interactive problem-solving technique useful for improving processes and implementing change. Under this, you:
- Plan: Identify room for improvement and build a plan for change.
- Do: Implement your plan on a small scale as a test.
- Check: Look at the results of the chain to gauge its effectiveness.
- Act: Take action based on the results observed; implement the action plan broadly, or refine it if you see more room for improvement.
As PDCA is an improvement cycle, you can repeat these steps until you achieve the desired results.
4 Tips for building a winning process improvement strategy
Ready to start improving your processes? Awesome.
To help you avoid missteps, here are some proven techniques to enhance your process improvement cycle:
Visualize your current processes
The first step of process improvement is clearly defining and visualizing your current processes.
Recreate your workflow using visual elements (for example, a digital kanban board or flowchart) to connect the dots between what work is done and how it’s completed. Define the various steps involved in your process and the time it takes to complete each step, followed by outlining who typically works on each step and when handoffs occur.
Carefully analyze what needs to change
The next step is to get to the heart of what needs to change.
Nearly every process has some form of waste hidden in it, i.e., things that don’t add value. Your primary objective is to identify and eliminate them within your processes to save time and produce better outcomes. This can be overproduction, sitting inventory and defects due to incomplete or inaccurate information.
Consider the following questions to identify the waste within your processes and build a thorough process improvement plan:
- Which issues are creating problems for your customers or team members?
- Which steps are creating bottlenecks?
- Is there any underlying reason behind the increase in costs or decline in quality?
- Which steps require the most time to complete or cause the most delays?
Your best bet is to reach out to people directly affected by the process and ask them what they think is wrong and the improvements they suggest.
Continuously monitor progress
After implementing a process improvement methodology, be sure to monitor progress using applicable process improvement metrics or KPIs.
This way, you can hold staff accountable for the agreed-upon productivity and quality standards and determine whether the implemented changes are helping improve outcomes. Daily monitoring also simplifies implementing changes to improve performance faster as well as fine-tune processes and workflows based on performance comparison to departmental goals.
Leverage the right process improvement tools
Process improvement doesn’t have to be difficult, thanks to specialized tools that can drive significant improvements in both performance and quality. You also have a wide range of options, with each tool uniquely to boost a given process.
Scribe, for instance, is the easiest way to create and update process documentation and build an extensive knowledge base for your team. Here’s how a user used Scribe to implement process improvement:
What’s more, using this process documentation tool is incredibly easy, too.
Turn on the extension to capture your browser or desktop workflow, and Scribe will automatically create visual, step-by-step guides that your employees can use to better do their jobs and boost productivity. To show you how to Silva, he has a scribe show you how to work Scribe (nice, right? 😛):
Bid farewell to inefficiencies & complexities with process improvement
In today’s increasingly complex world, no organization is safe from disruption. Luckily, committing to process improvement will give you a competitive edge that helps you stand out and thrive in the long run.
Make sure you choose and implement the right process improvement methodology. Our top picks will help you operate more efficiently, reduce risk, and realize greater returns on your investment.