Before we can understand what process improvement is and how it can take your business to the next level, it is important to define what a process is. Every organization has its processes. We can define them as a sequence of actions and activities carried out preferably in the same order, involving an exchange of information and data and being driven by a person or group.
In a company that sells furniture, for example, one of the processes is the purchase, which starts with the customer’s request, then the registration of the order, payment, and delivery. Each of these steps is part of the composition of the process, involving people (salespeople, managers) and information (price, customer data). It’s only an example of a process.
The goal of every BPM study is to aim for all tasks and stages of processes to occur efficiently and effectively throughout the entire production chain, by providing a highly perceived value to the customer upon delivery of the product or service.
The greater the perceived value, the more the customer will be willing to pay to enjoy it. And if the processes for delivery are efficient without waste and with high operational productivity, it will enable the company to achieve a good profit margin.
In this context, process improvement becomes a crucial activity for the achievement of this goal.
- What is process improvement – 7 Steps to take your business where you are to where you want it to go, read about it here.
- To understand better, also see the types of business processes here.
What process improvement isn’t
To better understand what process improvement is, we can begin by highlighting some of the common misinterpretations of its objectives.
An efficient working process improvement does NOT include these goals:
- Designing highly complex diagrams
- Developing new systems
- Replacing human activities with automation
These elements may appear during the search for solutions, but the real objective of process improvement is to make it suitable and able to deliver the best result for the client (whether service or product), by respecting the importance of the companies relationship with each customer.
In this way, the process adds value, to contemplate an improvement also in the relationship sphere and not just in the characteristics of products and services.
In short, we can define what is a process improvement
An analysis of the current processes to detect activities that could be improved, such as inefficiencies and bottlenecks, in order to align your goals and objectives, workflow, controls and integration with other processes so that it contributes significantly in delivering value to the customer.
For this, this new process should follow these design principles.
First step to understanding what process improvement is
The first step, one of the most important, is the business process analysis. How to improve something that’s not fully understood? Before you start with a process improvement, it is important to understand the current processes and how they work without any illusions or deception. For this you could use a Professional Process Analyst – they are increasingly required by large sized companies and work precisely in analyzing and improving business processes. You could also use an AS-IS mapping process, by drawing a graph of the process and all of its phases, to create a complete picture of what could be causing delays, where the bottlenecks are and where the points of improvement are.
Talking to the people involved in the project is crucial. There’s nobody better to tell you exactly where the difficulties lie than those who work day to day with the process.
Step by step process improvement
After the analysis, you should model the new process. But, how can you do it? What would be the best way to conduct this process to find the best result faster and using fewer resources? Make another diagram and share ideas with the team!
After process modeling, it’s time to get started! Effectively putting into action what was discussed and getting everyone on board is essential to the success of process improvement. It is the examination of the implementation where you’ll be able to see whether or not the new ideas work and if the improvements will succeed.
Of course, you will always find new points of improvement and new bottlenecks. The process of improving them again is called process optimization (see also some examples), and should never in any way be skipped.
Principles for Process Improvement
Interaction between customers
This principle states that even though processes can become extremely efficient after applying improvements, if the customers experience is not satisfactory, all of this work can be lost. It’s what marketers call “moments of truth”, therefore all customer contact points in the organization must provide the best possible experience.
Activities that add value
A key and easy to understand principle: does the activity add value to the service or product? If so, we must devote our full attention to it, so that it performs in the best possible way during the process. As for activities that do not add value, they must be eliminated from the new process.
Decrease activities most likely to generate a fault in the process
Whenever a risky activity is part of the process, you need to find a way to eliminate it or to simplify its implementation. The use of a more appropriate technology is often the solution to this situation.
First redesign the process, then automate
Here one should take care not to focus solely on process improvements in automation. The replacement of human activities is not always the solution that will get the desired improvement to achieve the objectives of that process.
Some processes are repeated throughout the value chain. If they are properly documented and kept in a process library, you can have access to them and their characteristics. Therefore, when designing process improvements, it’s important to standardize them, wherever possible, into reusable components, bringing management agility into the company in addition to facilitating the integration of processes.
These are simple rules that can greatly facilitate processes, avoiding time-consuming tasks and complex procedures that can be replaced by these rules. A hypothetical example: cheques with a value less than R$100.00 can be withdrawn without conferring with the signer. After analyzing the process, it was realized that it would be more expensive to analyze all of the cheques one by one than to possibly have any returned because of signature error. The business rule brought agility to the process without the loss of value. Plus, it improved the customer experience! Remember, process improvement is about pursuing the best experience for the customer, efficiently and effectively.
Most sectors have measurement standards, procedures, certifications and other parameters that are monitored by government entities or groups. Obviously any process improvement cannot go beyond these rules.
One thing that process improvement is not, is a finite process. In fact, it is a cyclical process because the more we improve, the more we see how to move forward. It is crucial that this is ingrained in the company culture, which has to be eternal and constantly applied.
Finally, so what is process improvement? We can conclude that Process Improvement occurs after analyzing current processes, redesigning the processes of activities that do not add value or that bring great risks by eliminating them (or at least simplifying them), constantly following normative rules and seeking to create easy business rule implementation with the creation of reusable standards, all with the aim of adding more value to the product or service and in the end, an improved customer experience.
One thing that helps a lot in implementing process improvement and directing your mind-set is the use of reliable software, which helps both managers and employees share information and make sure that data is up to date. The right software can even conduct an effective analysis of processes, map them, mode them, optimize them and automate them!