4 Proven Process Improvement Techniques you can use Right Now
Process Improvement can seem like a daunting task. You know things “can be better”, but you don’t know how or where to start. Plus, when you look into it, it’s described with tons of textbook words which can make it all seem a bit confusing and daunting. Then you put Process Improvement on the “back burner”; it’s something you’ll get to someday…
Don’t let it be someday. Make that day today! These 4 proven steps is Process Improvement in its simplest form. The process is so simple that anyone can follow it.
1. Meet with Staff to Identify 5-7 Key Processes
Meet the people who do the actual processes and discuss with them what works and what doesn’t work for them. Just because something technically works (system or process isn’t “broke”) doesn’t mean the process works. And the only way to truly understand the process bottlenecks is by speaking to the users. Very often users have their own “hacks” to doing things, and why? because it makes it more efficient for them. Only by speaking to the user do you find out how a process is actually done, and why. If you can identify 5-7 key processes for improvement then great. Work with your users to get a feel for where the best inefficiencies can be gained and pick one to focus on for the next stage. For now, this may be taking your users word for it but as you gain experience and knowledge, you will be able to make this call for yourself.
2. Document each Step in the Process
Document the process up and whilst you are doing so, ask yourself as many questions as you can, to ensure you are not making any process assumptions. Eg
- What roles/departments are involved?
- What prerequisites are required before the process can begin or be successful? data? knowledge? training? level of systems access? software? computer peripherals? location? documents? a sub-process? etc etc
- Are there are any decisions to make in the process? Are these logical based or down to a person’s judgement? How do the decisions affect the process that is followed afterwards?
- Timings of steps involved and of the whole process, where do the delays occur?
- Are approvals required? If so, for what purpose? Do the approvers have the knowledge and experience required to do the approval?
- What type of data has to be entered? Where? Why? By who?
- Why documents or deliverables are generated as a result of the process?
- What problems occur with the current process? Data integrity? inaccuracy? data availability? customer service? manual updates required to keep process working? process reliant upon a particular person being in to do the work? Etc (If we understand the problems then this can help us with appropriate solution eg introduce data validation in a system, improve training, provide quality levels and feedback etc)
Literally document the process up the best you can. I could go on giving examples how to but I won’t. You get the idea! If you’ve got this far you are already doing very well. Many go straight to getting a solution without doing the leg work and then don’t understand why the solution “doesn’t work”. Whilst you could go through this process and still not end up with the best solution, you will have a far better chance of success with this process than without.
3. Identify any Process Step that Does Not Add Value or is Wasteful and Remove it
This is the big key step. This is where all the work you have done in steps 1 and 2 really pays off! You can evaluate all your findings and look for the non value adding steps and remove/simplify them. It may seem tougher to do than that but often, when we look at a process as logically as that then it’s as simple as that. For example, there are often processes that, once you have gone past a certain point then the rest of the process stays the same. Eg, if after every time a client signs a document we scan into the system and save it onto a client’s file, and this is done manually by a person, then why not develop the system so that when the document is scanned, it can go directly onto the client’s file automatically without user having to do it? Yes. This can be done! It’s a relatively small change for the user, one thing less that they have to do but could save tons of time so that user can focus on other tasks. It could also reduce errors as the original process is reliant on user to save document to client’s file, which lets face it, could result in being saved to the wrong client. Of course, what ever you come up to improve your processes, involve your end users!! I can not emphasize this enough. Your users will help you to understand any potential problems with your proposed solution. Whether it be they can identify it won’t work for a reason, or they simply put up a barrier to change, you will be armed with knowledge. Knowledge to either help you adapt your solution proposal, or, to ensure your roll out plan is top notch, so that you get end-user buy-in. Either way, success is more likely with end user involvement. They give insights that you can’t get elsewhere.
4. Ensure that staff is Fully Trained on each Process Step and Can Execute the Steps
This one needs no explanation I’m sure. Once your staff are fully trained and they know what they are doing, you can monitor the success/challenges of the change and learn from it. What went well? What didn’t go well? Why not? Take what you’ve learnt and repeat these 4 steps for another process, or even the same one. Until you have had some practice, you may not identify all the non value adding steps first time around, but that’s OK. You may identify further improvements when you see the new process in action. And that’s what we call Continuous Improvement (or CI for short). We simply repeat the process again.
When you complete this process you should have one process improvement on your belt! With lots of practice, trial and error, and execution of the above, you will be armed and even more ready to tackle the rest of your processes!
Good luck! 🙂