Process improvement is a systematic approach to identifying barriers and inefficiencies then finding creative solutions and measuring success. However, process improvement is also a mindset. Some employees identify issues and find solutions in their work every day while others complain about inefficiencies but never bother to confront or address them. Process improvement can also be an objective, a commitment to continue to improve upon what you have already done. The trick for any organization is to create a culture of process improvement and to standardize their approach so that solutions can be sought, measured and implemented consistently and successfully.
We all know that change is inevitable. You either embrace it or you get swallowed by it. Today technology advancements and access to instant information require organizations to stay in a constant state of self-improvement. Organizations need to consistently generate new knowledge, innovate, and prove their worth. A commitment to standardized process improvement helps keep companies competitive, helps keep them current in a changing environment, and it can also help keep employees engaged, motivated, and productive.
Consider these potential process improvement strategies:
The Squeaky Wheel
Inevitably there will be an area of your organization that is more vocal than others about needing changes to their internal processes. From a morale standpoint, this “squeaky wheel” may be a good place to start. However, be cautious of creating an atmosphere where the loudest employees win. You’ll need to be strategic about how you solicit feedback so that everyone has an opportunity to voice an opinion. With this type of group you will have to choose your project approach carefully (we’ll talk more about project approaches later on). This group will likely have many ideas on how to make things better so getting them involved in the process may make a lot of sense.
This tactic has you looking at the numbers to see where your organization’s costs are coming from. The processes involved in those areas will then be under the microscope for potential improvement. This strategy can help save the organization money which could help facilitate the “buy-in” from top leaders. However, this strategy could also pose challenges in that you could be reviewing processes that employees feel are running well. Are your manufacturing processed suffering due to old or outdated equipment? Could you benefit from Universal Labeling Systems to upgrade the look and feel of your product? Are your employees in need of better safety equipment? These questions often seem as though they are coming with an increased cost, but what will they save you over time?
Core Business Practice
Instead of numbers, this strategy has you focus on core business practices. What is your business in the business of doing? What internal processes help create your core product or service? Improving these processes could have a direct impact on the products and services you deliver. However, this approach, like Cost Analysis, could be addressing processes that employees say are running well.
In this approach you begin by surveying your employees. You gather data on what they feel needs to change, be improved, or what new tools they may need to be more effective and more efficient. This can help give a voice to your employees and create a sense of ownership and buy-in. However, this approach could also lead to hurt feelings and potential resentment in that most of the suggestions will not be initially addressed.
Another starting point could be with your customers. Ask your customers what they would want to see improved. What parts of your process, product and/or service are seen as inefficient? This strategy gives a voice to your customer and helps make them part of the improvement process. However, this approach could potentially alienate some customers as their ideas or suggestions may never be fully acted upon.
Low Hanging Fruit
With this approach you are looking for processes that could easily be modified and monitored. This often serves as a good “starting point” for introducing the idea of process improvement to a team, department or organization. However, this approach could have you spending time on processes that aren’t inefficient or that aren’t critical to your organization’s success.
Once you have identified which strategy to employ, the biggest indicator of success is actually implementing it. Many organizations get stuck in the assessment phase and never make it to implementation. Don’t let that happen to you, choose a strategy and begin working right away to identify the potentially inefficient and ineffective processes.