- January 5, 2021
- by Kate Borucka
- No comments
Business process improvement is the key to staying on top. While business processes are an inseparable part of our work, not everyone realizes how much they affect a company’s success.
And with the right business process improvement methodology, you can scale up your success and grow your organization.
What is business process improvement? Why is it important and what are the best practices? Here’s everything you need to know. Let’s dig deeper!
Table of Contents
Business Process Improvement Definition
Let’s start with the basics – what is a business process? In business, a process can relate to any work activity – submitting your timesheet for approval at the end of every day, weekly meeting with your team, or writing a report.
In general, a business process can be any activity performed within a project or organizational structure that brings the team closer to the finish line.
Business processes may have different several steps depending on its complexity. But usually, it involves three to four moves:
- Operational – general preparation for a project such as planning and organizing resources, setting objectives for clarity, developing a budget. Everything that determines the outcome of a product or project.
- Management – actual operation on a project, execution of all planned activities and tasks
- Support – as the name suggests, this phase supports the management step and relates to all activities that are to aid the management phase
- Readjustment – involves monitoring metrics, risks, and opportunities to make proper adjustments and deliver a better end product
So what is business process improvement (BPI)? It means diagnosing, analyzing, and improving functioning procedures to either enhance them or radically transform your business. The ultimate goal of process improvements is to improve the quality of your product, user experience, and help your business grow.
Successful process improvement projects at your company require change management – thorough preparation and implementation of strategies and use of adequate methodologies.
👉 Read about Business Process Reengineering
Why Is Improvement Process Important?
Business process improvement is important because it helps to shape organizational culture, optimize procedures for higher efficiency, and help a company evolve and grow.
Its importance is best visible in all the benefits. And there are plenty of them. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant:
- Automation of work – eliminating tedious activities and bureucracy
- Waste elimination by assessing the profitability of projects or certain processes that consume too much time and money, and don’t bring any value to the company
- Defining or reshaping the culture, organizational procedures, and regulations
- Supporting the current strategy or create a new one that aligns with company values
- Implementing new technology that helps to stay on top and achieve better results
- Fewer errors resulting in higher customer satisfaction and improved quality of services or products
- Improved employee skills and their performance
- Efficient and smooth workflow
- Compliance with regulations and labor law
If processes don’t work, a company may deal with unmotivated, frustrated employees, poor customer satisfaction, and higher costs.
A good, properly chosen business process improvement methodology can help apply changes. They will make it easier for you to map the plan.
You can use either one of your techniques or use some of the already existing and proven ones. Here are the most popular and best methodologies to help you improve processes:
Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma
Six Sigma was introduced by American engineer Bill Smith while working at Motorola in 1986. The two methodologies are very similar and that’s why often the two terms are used interchangeably.
Its aim is to reduce the probability of defects to 3.4 (three and four-tenths) of a defect per million occasions. In this way, the Six Sigma approach can lead to increased process repeatability (stability).
Is an advanced methodology and requires the knowledge of statistics. It’s best for the manufacturing sector. So if you’re using this method, it’s best to hire a certified specialist or a consultant who can help walk you smoothly through the entire process. You can also train your project managers.
👉 Check our article and find more specific information about time tracking for consultants
Lean management or manufacturing is a production method that originated at Toyota in 1930 known as the operating model ‘The Toyota Way’.
It was defined in 1996 by James Womack and Daniel Jones and includes five key components: “Precisely specify value by specific product, identify the value stream for each product, make value flow without interruptions, let customer pull value from the producer, and pursue perfection.”
It also assumes continuous improvement while respecting employees.
This method is popular in IT sector. In this approach, you break the project into different parts – iterations, instead of defining it as a whole.
It includes cycles such as designing, developing, testing, and improving the product or project by making appropriate changes during the life cycle, not after it ends. Implementing agile methodology can be difficult for startups and enterprises. This is because it is not just about implementing methodology within a business’s current assumptions, it is more about completely redefining work culture of an organization.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
TQM is a compact methodology with a simple approach – a full involvement of all employees in the improvement process to constantly improve quality. Its goal is to improve customer experience and satisfaction by enhancing organization outcomes.
Total Quality Management is an integrated part of company culture so all processes are coherent and balanced.
In Japan, Kaizen means ‘continuous improvement.’ This method is the fundament of the Six Sigma methodology but can be used separately.
It aims at making the work environment stable, healthy, and friendly so employees can feel comfortable, motivated, and by that be more productive.
Cause and Effect Analysis
Also known as a fishbone diagram or Ishikawa diagram was created by Kaoru Ishikawa. It’s a cause analysis tool that helps to visualize the potential causes of a problem.
You can use it to categorize the ideas, brainstorm, and find the source of a difficulty.
Value Stream Mapping (VSM)
This is another visual method that can help improve processes. It’s used as a lean tool that helps to visualize the full life cycle of a product.
VSM helps to determine every step of your product from planning to delivering it to the end-customer. You first gather all the information about processes and then create a graph.
Kanban is one of the most popular methodologies used in many organizations as part of a project management processes.
It was developed in the 1940s in the Toyota factories, it’s gotten the name from the visual system of cards – “Kanban”. The system is called a “lean manufacturing system,” or a “Just-in-Time (JIT) system.”
Kanban is a technique for optimizing work while delivering the best results.
How to Do Business Process Improvement?
Whether you’re implementing new processes or reshaping current ones, you can take specific steps that will help you become effective.
Let’s go through them one by one!
1. Define objectives
This is the first and for some companies the most difficult step because you need to determine all the “whys”: why do you want to do this? What do you want to achieve How much money can your company spend? What tools, methodology will you use? Who will be engaged
Usually, there are two reasons for improving processes
- External: to keep up with the changing business world, meet increasing customer expectations
- Internal: when your company is facing an internal crisis, has ineffective procedures, lack of strategy and objectives
Identify what needs to be improved to have a clear vision. This is the phase to think, brainstorm, and set specific objectives.
👉 Read also our article about objectives and key results (OKRs)
Now that you know what you want to achieve, you need to measure and analyze.
“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”
― H. James Harrington
Report current business processes, see what’s happening, evaluate statistics, figures, budget, everything that can be documented.
Use time tracking to identify the profitability of projects and whether the clients are resource absorbing, what takes most of time and influences employee productivity.
Just make sure to document all your reports, analytics, and important papers to always have insight into your business performance
Communication is the key to success. So before you decide to go through BPI, talk to stakeholders, investors, and team members. Explain your reasons and why you think change is necessary. Tell all the benefits and how the BPI will add value to the company.
It’s better to avoid a situation when you communicate the change at the end and later need to revert everything because senior management doesn’t agree with your concept. You can avoid that by clearly communicating your vision.
4. Map the process
To redesign the process, you need to create an outline so you don’t get lost.
You can use dedicated tools like collaboration software, mind mapping apps, or process and project management apps. They will help you keep everything in one place, create a smooth workflow, and keep a coherent structure.
Here, brainstorming also can be helpful to make it a collaborative effort.
Also, make sure to document every part of the process. Gather all the data, collect all metrics and documentation.
Not only will it ensure law compatibility but also help to eliminate risks, keep consistency, and regularly review the process for unity.
5. Use the right tools
Improving processes doesn’t have to be drudging and uninteresting. You can spice it up by using the right tools.
It can be a simple Kanban board, a complex project management software, or a collaboration tool.
There are plenty to choose from. And with the right one, BPI can be exciting and refreshing.
6. Implement changes globally
Zoe Radnor in her paper Review of Business Process Improvement Methodologies in Public Services noted that in a survey that was conducted within the evaluation for Scottish Executive 61% of organizations highlighted that one of the key success factors contributing to Lean projects included commitment from senior management, experienced delivery team that dedicate time to projects, involvement in all stages and dedicated champions to drive the improvements.”
Business process improvement requires the full engagement of all the people whom it concerns. That’s where the Total Quality Management methodology can help you.
BPI is not a one-time action. It’s a continuous improvement that needs to be monitored and adjusted.
If you’re documenting business process improvement, you can use lessons learned to prevent repeating mistakes from happening in the future. That’s why documenting your procedures is important.
Business Process Improvement Challenges
Improving processes is not easy. You may face certain challenges that can negatively impact your organization.
Here’s what you can expect and how to avoid failure:
- Resistance to change, avoiding planned improvements that aren’t aligned to business goals, and failing to communicate plans across the organization to relevant parties.”
- Communication: set communication channels, talk about risks, problems that may appear, and about all the benefits to everyone knows what they stand on.
- Organization is not ready for a change: there are many factors contributing to this challenge. It may be poor preparation, lack of resources, or employees don’t see the benefits. To avoid it, make sure you have a plan, and are well-prepared.
- Being afraid of failure: risk is a part of every business. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Lack of the right skills: it’s challenging but can be solved by hiring a specialist who has business process improvement certification and knows her way around.
If addressed at the initial steps, the challenges can be a driving force for your team in endeavors to change for the better.
Business Process Improvement Tools
Business process management systems (BPMS) can make business process changes easy to introduce. After all, it’s all about optimizing work.
Here are several of the tools that can help you improve processes and keep you and your team on track.
Best for: assessing financial and staff efficiency, boosting productivity, and work automation
TimeCamp is an automatic time tracking software. It can be helpful in assessing project and client profitability, eliminating time-consuming administrative procedures, and improving efficiency.
It also has an automatic timesheet filling feature for automation and attendance management so you can flexibly manage your staff.
Best for: managing projects and a team
ProjectManager is a project management software that allows you to manage every aspect of your organization.
You can use it to keep all the documentation about your processes, use boards and graphs to visualize progress, and view everything in real-time.
3. Expert Business Process Management Systems
Best for: organizations needing a full suite of BPI tools
Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) are fully-featured tools that help to go through every step of process improvement, from collecting, organizing, analyzing, automating, to final improvement.
Some of the most popular BPMS are SaaS BPM, Orchestly, Novacura Flow, SolveXia, or iGrafx.
Best for: visualizing and monitoring processes in real-time
Lucidchart is a tool for mapping and outlining ideas and tasks. It’s a powerful solution that lets you visualize processes and tasks, and monitor them in real-time.
It’s suitable for all types of teams, especially for those who work in the Agile methodology.
Best for: small teams and businesses to communicate and work in Kanban style
HeySpace is best for teams that need a simple solution without advanced functionalities. It’s a task management software with chat so it allows you to communicate and collaborate with team and stakeholders.
It’s a combination of Slack and Trello – you can manage all steps of improvement in a convenient and adjustable Kanban view, and discuss problems in chat.
Best for: managing projects, programs, and processes in one platform
Smartsheet is a flexible program that unifies collaboration, workflows, and content management.
It’s a cloud-based platform for work execution, enabling teams and organizations to plan, capture, manage, automate, and report on work at scale, resulting in more efficient processes and better business outcomes
Best for: Identifying objectives and mapping out the process
This template from Slite is free, 100% customizable, can be worked on by your whole team. Use it to create a BPI plan from scratch and collaborate on it with other people.
The Bottom Line
Whichever methodology, tool you choose, remember to collaborate. It’s a team effort that will bring benefits only if you work together.
Once you start, you can’t rest on your laurels, you need to monitor changes, risks, and adjust.
Make this quote by H. James Harrington your motto when improving processes:
“We are spending all our time saying, “I’m sorry. I will fix it.” when what we should be doing is developing processes that will make it unnecessary to ever say “I am sorry.” What we need to do now is prevent problems. “Prevention” is not preventing problems from recurring; it is preventing problems from occurring in the first place.”
Good luck! 💪