What is Process Improvement? Methodologies, Tips + Templates

Rana Bano
October 27, 2022
min read
January 19, 2024
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What is process improvement? Find out how process improvement can improve efficiency and reduce costs for your business. Learn 10 popular methodologies, tips & free templates to get you started.
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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 improving your organization’s effectiveness.

What is process improvement? It's the proactive approach to identifying, evaluating, and improving existing business processes to ensure continual improvement.

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 a continuous process improvement model to eliminate inertia and old habits, root out inefficiencies, and boost employee productivity.

TL;DR: What is process improvement?

  • What is process improvement? It's the systematic approach to analyzing and refining existing business processes to make them more efficient, effective and customer-centric.
  • Process improvement is an ongoing process that involves identifying areas for improvement, developing and implementing solutions, and measuring and evaluating the results.
  • It helps businesses meet best practice standards, improve workflow, optimize team performance, and deliver streamlined end-user experiences.
  • Process improvement methodologies, such as Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing, can be implemented to analyze and optimize processes.
  • The benefits of process improvement include increased operational productivity, more effective and efficient operations, reduced risks and costs, higher customer satisfaction, improved profitability, and fostering compliance.
  • To build a winning process improvement strategy, visualize current processes, analyze areas for improvement, continuously monitor progress, and leverage the right process improvement tools.

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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 meet best practice standards better, improve workflow or output quality, optimize team performance, and deliver streamlined end-user experiences.

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.
  • Streamlined, repeatable processes for consistent outcomes.

What is a process improvement methodology?

A process improvement methodology is a systematic approach to evaluating and improving business processes. It's a set of steps and tools that can be used to identify, analyze, and address inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and other problems in a process.

You can implement process improvement by following a set of distinct methodologies to analyze your current processes and optimize them to improve outcomes like increased profitability and reduced inefficiencies. 

Process improvement methodologies for your business

Your team can adopt various methodologies to tackle the process improvement cycle. 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:

1. Six Sigma

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 white belt holders and move up to the most advanced stage: the coveted black belt.

Under this technique, process improvement is broken down into two unique ways through specific process improvement 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 your approach, following this methodology can help you optimize for consistency, minimize defects, and improve customer satisfaction.

📌 ‎Related resource: 6 Steps to Becoming a Six Sigma Black Belt

2. Lean manufacturing

Also known as lean production or just-in-time production, lean manufacturing reduces wastage for effective cost-cutting to improve manufacturing processes.

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.

📌 ‎Related resource: What is Process Manufacturing: All You Need to Know

3. Kaizen

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.

4. 5S

The 5S technique is part of the Lean and Kaizen methodologies, focusing on 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 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.

5. Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total Quality Management (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 primary goal of TQM is to improve processes and reduce inefficiencies and effects.

6. Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) is an interactive problem-solving technique for improving processes and implementing change. Under PDCA, 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.

‎7. Business process management (BPM) methodology

Business process management, or BPM, involves analyzing and enhancing business processes to ensure continuous improvement. 

This process improvement methodology adopts a more hands-on approach that includes the following steps:

  • Analyze: Identify potential improvements by evaluating existing processes and mapping them from beginning to end.
  • Design/redesign: After incorporating the identified changes, evaluate and draft your ideal business processes. For example, if you find any inefficiencies in the first step, rebuild your processes by focusing on how you’ll solve them in this stage.
  • Execute: This step is all about putting your model into action. Test the design process on a small scale and establish key success metrics to determine whether the changes were successful.
  • Monitor: Compare current KPIs and benchmarks against previous metrics. Essentially, you want to determine whether the success metrics you identified in Step 3 are improving.
  • Optimize: Use the data and test processes to enhance business functions and processes. Continuously look for any inefficiencies and optimize as you go.

📌 ‎Learn more about RPA vs. BPM: key differences & benefits

8. Agile methodology

Under agile methodology, you take an iterative approach to project management and process improvement. 

Instead of having stringent project deadlines, you’ll have back-to-back incremental steps, referred to as "scrum" and "sprint" meetings, to easily incorporate team feedback and highlight problems and successes. 

Address speed, budget, and quality while staying flexible on the scope of improvements, making it easier for your team to adapt to change. When implementing process improvements using Scrum, creating a backlog of changes you intend to implement is important. 

Use the following framework to do this:

  • Initiate improvements. Identify processes you want to improve.
  • Diagnose. Monitor existing processes to find inefficiencies and issues.
  • Establish. Prioritize improvements and develop a game plan to tackle each challenge.
  • Act. Brainstorm effective solutions and pilot these changes to refine and ramp up implementation.
  • Learn. Measure feedback by analyzing performance and use the data to implement further improvements.

Every enhancement should be done in short bursts of incremental work, known as sprints. After planning your workflow improvements, you can roll them across four sprints:

  • Prototype: Make changes on a small scale.
  • Pilot: Test the changes on a small scale.
  • Deploy: Scale up the change.
  • Evaluate: Monitor how well the scaled-up change is performing.

Note that each sprint has a predetermined timeframe. You can assess the work and make priority changes after the duration ends.

9. 5 Whys analysis methodology 

The 5 Whys analysis is another renowned process improvement technique that focuses on identifying and solving the root cause of a problem. It’s a very straightforward way to deeply analyze your processes and recommend improvements by asking “Why” five times until you find out the issue.

Let’s explain this with the help of an example.

Suppose you find your team is getting several complaints regarding bad packaging. Here, you’ll ask the following five “whys”:

  • Why are we getting more complaints? Because the packaging isn’t adequately protecting your products.
  • Why is the packaging failing to protect the products? Because the team responsible for packaging isn’t testing the packages past a specific level of stress.
  • Why did the team not subject the packaging to further levels of stress? Because the current processes are indicated, and the current testing level is sufficient.
  • Why did the current standard process indicate this testing level was sufficient? Because the process was created for another product. The current product needs updated processes since it's coming back damaged. 
  • Why did the packaging team not create a new process for the new product? Because the project template for launching new products doesn’t include updating stress testing levels for the new packaging.

Each question helps you dig down to the root cause of the problem. All questions have a logical flow, too, enabling you to identify the issues and suitable solutions quickly.

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Why process improvement is important

Process improvement methodologies create opportunities to help you identify and overcome challenges in your processes that could be disrupting your business goals.

By successfully implementing a process improvement methodology, you can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your business strategy.

Here are some of the most prominent benefits of process improvement:

  • Boosts operational productivity.
  • Identifies improvement and optimization opportunities.
  • Eliminates redundant steps and automates tasks.
  • Eliminates wastage.
  • Increases productivity and efficiency.
  • Increases focus on essential duties.
  • Minimizes errors and fraud.
  • Improves production capacity and delivery speed.
  • Reduces unnecessary spending.
  • Integrates compliance into all business processes.
  • Streamlines the customer onboarding process.
  • Increases customer satisfaction.
  • Improves profitability.

📌 ‎Related resource: Decoding the Truth: 6 Process Improvement Myths

5 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.

1. Visualize your current processes

The first step of process improvement is clearly defining and visualizing your current processes. 

Map out your workflow using visual elements to connect the dots between what work is done and how it’s completed.

Process mapping, flowcharts, kanban boards or SIPOC analysis are all valuable tools for understanding and mapping out the essential components of a process and summarizing its inputs and outputs.

Map the steps involved in your process and the time it takes to complete each step, then outline the process owner, who typically works on each step, and when handoffs occur.

2. Document your processes

Use Scribe to automatically capture processes - what is process improvement

Good process documentation helps organizations to:

  • Identify opportunities for improvement. By mapping out the steps in a process, you can identify areas where the process is inefficient, wasteful, or error-prone.
  • Communicate the process to employees. Clear and concise process documentation helps employees to understand their roles and responsibilities and to follow the process correctly.
  • Train new employees. Use process documentation to train new employees, ensuring they follow procedures correctly.
  • Monitor and measure the process. Process documentation can be used to track performance over time and identify trends and areas for improvement.
  • Implement process improvements. Easily communicate process changes to employees and ensure they're implemented correctly.

Scribe is the easiest way to create and update process documentation and build an extensive knowledge base for your team. With Scribe, you simply turn on the extension to capture your browser or desktop workflow. Scribe will automatically create visual, step-by-step guides for your employees to do their jobs better and boost productivity.

‎Try Scribe's free ChatGPT Process Generator to streamline your process documentation!

Here’s how Scribe user Aurelius Tjin uses Scribe to capture complex processes and create a step-by-step guide quickly:

With Scribe Pages, you can quickly combine multiple Scribes and ask the generative AI to write your documentation for you. Add text, descriptions, hyperlinks, images, videos, and more to create a comprehensive process document.

Plus, you can edit and update your documentation in seconds—and with universal updates, the changes will be made wherever your documentation is stored.

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3. 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 identifying and eliminating 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:

  • 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.

Use the information you've gathered to build a thorough process improvement plan.

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4. Continuously monitor progress

After implementing a process improvement methodology, monitor progress using applicable process improvement metrics or KPIs. 

Monitoring is key to the process management lifecycle. 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 and fine-tune processes and workflows based on performance comparison to departmental and organizational goals.

5. Leverage the right process improvement tools

Process improvement doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow the right steps to process automation. Tools for process improvement can drive significant improvements in performance and quality. You also have a wide range of options, with each tool uniquely to boost a given process.

📌 ‎Automate, optimize and streamline processes with the best process transformation software!

The final word: what is process improvement?

So what is process improvement? Clearer processes and better workflows that directly impact your team’s productivity. 

Now that you know the best process improvement methodologies, start experimenting with your business processes and put the techniques into practice.

Combining different process improvement methodologies can help you create a unique and tailored solution for your business. With Scribe, you can capture your existing processes, create process documentation in seconds, and build your process improvement plan. Sign up for Scribe today and get started!

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