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Everything Continuous Improvement


Step by Step Guide to Better Business Process Efficiency

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Apr 28, 2021 11:50:38 AM

Next Level wooden sign with a street background-1Every business is made up of a series of processes that ideally lead to value for the customer. The more efficiently these processes run, the more likely the endeavor will be profitable. When there are defects or waste, customers are disappointed, employees get frustrated, and profits disappear. That’s why it is essential to focus on efficiency and learn how to streamline processes no matter what type of organization you manage.

What does business process efficiency mean? Efficiency is the ratio of the effective or useful output to the total input in any system. In other words, efficient processes produce the desired customer value with the least amount of effort, resources, and time. For example, if one person can make 50 pancakes in an hour, their process is more efficient than a team of three that makes 40 pancakes an hour.

Step 1: Implement Standard Work

Standard work is a pillar of business process management. Implementing Standard Work means documenting the current best practice for any process or task and ensuring that every process operator continuously follows it. The people who do the work should be involved in crafting the Standard. The reason this is so important is that you can’t begin to eliminate waste and improve business process efficiency without a clear understanding of the current state and repeatable, predictable results. The Standard becomes the baseline from which you can improve.

Step 2: Insist on Change Control

Once the Standard is in place, team members can start to search for opportunities to improve it. However, it is essential that changes to the process are made with deliberation and care. For organizations just getting started with process efficiency improvements, we recommend an improvement cycle called PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act).

Plan: Define the problem or opportunity and document its impact. Use objective measurements whenever possible. Agree on the desired post-improvement state and identify the metrics that will be used to characterize success. Discuss and reach a consensus on a proposed change to the process.

Do: Implement the proposed change. It is best to implement only one change at a time so that you are dealing with fewer variables as you access the results.

Study: Implement your agreed-upon measurements and analyze the results against the baseline results from the current Standard work.

Act: If the change achieved the desired result, adjust the Standard work to include the change. Continue to measure results overtime to ensure that the change is long-lasting. If the change was not successful or if there are additional proposed solutions, begin the cycle again.

Step 3: Identify Root Causes

As the team is working on the PDSA cycle, be sure that they are acting against the root causes of problems and not just symptoms. When you make improvements that address symptoms, the improvement can actually add more complexity and opportunity for error into the process. Any gains from these types of modifications tend to be short-term. The better approach is to engage in process modeling to find the root cause and make changes to address it. The 5-whys is a problem-solving technique designed to help uncover the exact reasons for process failure or inefficiency.

Step 4: Teach the 8 Wastes

Organizations with the most efficient processes see every employee as a valuable resource for finding and correcting inefficiency. Unfortunately, organizations tend to neglect to teach people where to look. The Lean business management methodology has a helpful way of categorizing eight different types of waste. Even if you don’t fully adopt Lean, teaching your team about the eight wastes will help them recognize opportunities to improve by reducing waste.

Transportation: Excessive moving of raw materials or inventory.

Overproduction: Creating a product or process input before it is required.

Over-processing: Adding features or complexity to a product or service that is not seen as valuable by the customer.

Inventory: Building or storing excess raw materials, work in progress, equipment, supplies, or products.

Defects: Reprocessing, inspection, or correcting errors.

Waiting: Processing delays or downtime due to processes waiting for resources or work product from other functions.

Motion: Human movements that are unnecessary or ergonomically incorrect.

Human potential: Underutilizing the talents, skills, or knowledge of people.

This post has real-life examples.
Free eBook: Guide to the 8 Wastes of Lean


Step 5: Give Process Operators a Way to Suggest Improvements

Once your team knows what to look for and has practiced implementing PDSA cycles, it is time to unleash their continual improvement potential by providing them a way to suggest and manage improvements to achieve specific goals. The best approach is improvement management software designed for this very purpose. As soon as someone recognizes an opportunity or spots a way to waste less time, they can document what they’ve noticed from a platform that is available on any device. Managers are immediately notified and can review the idea and determine if a PDSA cycle is in order. Once the cycle begins, all work is documented and available for stakeholders. After a change is implemented, the impact is measured in the system, and success can be widely shared.

While none of these suggestions are groundbreaking, they are excellent necessary steps to take to get you on the road to processes that produce predictable, quality results, with little waste, more engaged employees, and happy customers.

Topics: Quality, Improvement Process

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