Process improvement is a fundamental to business management. If you run an operation (and all businesses do, one way or another) you are reliant on two things:
- The people you employ, their skills and capabilities
- The processes that you use, the way you do things
So the only ways an operation can perform better are to improve its processes or its people.
Changing processes (the way you do things) is something we all do everyday.
So What is all the Fuss About?
There is a lot of mystique associated with process improvement, lots of jargon and multiple methodologies but process improvement is very easy. There are only three simple questions that you need to get your mind around:
1. What is your purpose?
A process is series of actions or steps taken to achieve an end. And that end is all important. If your process is to work well you must be very clear what the thing is that you are producing. The “purpose” of the process should be obvious.
It is difficult to cook a great meal if you aren’t clear what you want to eat, the same is true for any other process.
2. Who is your customer?
The only person who can tell you if you are meeting your purpose is your customer. That is the person you are working for. You only have one customer; it is the person who is handing over the cash, the person who is paying for what you are doing.
3. Is your customer happy?
If everything your process does focuses on meeting that customer need, nothing more and nothing less, and there is no way you could make it better, then you have the perfect process.
Process improvement is simply about changing the way you do things to meet customer needs, hence the picture.
Why is it so Hard?
The problem with process improvement is that organisations don’t focus on what the paying customer wants, they focus on what senior managers want, or stake holders want, or owners want, so they optimise around the wrong person.
All process improvement does is refocus the processes back on giving the customer what they pay for.
At its heart the problem with process improvement isn’t one of tools and techniques or methodologies. The real problem is an emotive one. How do you persuade managers to agree that they should focus their efforts on customers not shareholders, not bosses, not regulators and certainly not themselves?
How to Run a Process Improvement Workshop
Here is a step by step video guide to running a process improvement workshop. It takes about half an hour to run through so if you want the “know how” I’d recommend getting a cup of tea before you start. There is also a PDF copy of the notes that you can print out beforehand and scribble on.
I made my wife check through the video before I posted it. She said it “really wasn’t as dull as I thought it was going to be”. But then she is my wife and has to be polite.
Other ways to skin the cat
Sometimes it helps to see the same thing from a different perspective, so here are a couple of other resources I found on-line that cover similar ground and may answer some of the questions you have, helping you see the workshop approach in a different light.
- Brown paper process flow analysis (PDF)
- Brown paper process mapping (PPT)
- How to run a service improvement workshop
Want to Learn Some More?
What are the different methodologies?
- Do you need lean thinking?
- Six questions about six sigma?
- How to think like an auditor (business process management)
Tools to help you define the issue
Finding waste and removing it
- The Pandora’s box of service improvement, dare you open it? (team exercise to identify waste)
- Error proofing
- Stating the bleeding obvious (visual management)
7 deadly process improvement sins
- Point Optimisation: Customers despise centres of excellence
- Cost Focus: Fool’s gold, how to save money
- Relying on IT: Information technology, are you just hiding the problem?
- Over controlling: Please don’t add any more process
- Letting the process become the master: Processes are built to be broken
- Forgetting about people: Process design and human nature
- Jargon: The strategic domain of the black-belt
Read Another Opinion
There are a number of process improvement sites across the internet that are really worth a look, here are two of my favourites: