As a business survives and grows, responsible team members implement processes and systems based on the current business situation. Yet as time goes on, demands on the business change, which results in even more processes being added to the existing ones. Over time, the result is a layered set of processes and systems—understood only by key team members—that may be overly complex and consume organizational capacity. Examine your organization and ask yourself these questions:
Is your core business process dependant on one or two “gurus”?
Have you ever heard, “That’s just the way we do things—there’s no need to change it,” or “We can’t change it”?
Have you ever thought, “If that person left, we would be in a world of hurt”?
If these sound familiar, there is potential for growth. Take a fresh look at your core business processes and supporting systems, and test each step in each process to see if it is adding value. Start with analysis. Step 1: Analysis Analysis is the first step to business process improvement and it starts by gaining an understanding of your current state processes. Pull the process owners, or “gurus,” together to identify all of the key processes and to gain an understanding on the flow and steps of each process. You may find that some processes are not executed the same each time, or are done differently depending on who is doing the work. A fundamental requirement to unleash capacity is to implement repeatable processes. In the case of multiple processes, pick one and anoint it as the repeatable one. While gaining input from your experienced team on a particular process, you may see perceived exceptions that justify the overall process. It is common for onerous steps to get inserted in process because a problem occurred “once upon a time.” When this is encountered, apply the test of “common cause” or “special cause.” This means examining the situation to see if it is a “one-off” occurrence or if it happens in every cycle of the process. One-off or special cause exceptions deserve focused attention and resolution, while common cause exceptions should be included in the process flow for measurement and improvement over time. Once the core business processes are understood, you must then gain stakeholder acceptance on overall processes and improvements. Now that most of the mechanics of business process improvement are in place, what’s next? Step 2: Leadership To achieve business benefits, the leadership of the organization must communicate the importance of the initiative to the organization and must actively participate in the execution. This is key. A leader’s responsibility is to cause the right action to occur and then use reinforcement to cause the action to reoccur. At this point, the processes have been examined and defined, the message has been sent and empowerment is given; but how do you know if it delivered the desired business benefits? There’s only one answer: measurement. Step 3: Measurement Measurement has to be connected to key steps in the process, be broadly visible, be aligned with business and team member performance objectives and have a real impact at the individual team member level. Leadership must: define the new goals, set and maintain priorities, measure and reward the resulting action and overall, walk the walk. Post-Process Improvement Leadership might say, “Before we did this work, it took us 15 days to deliver product to our customers. As a result of employing the process improvement method, the delivery time has been reduced to one to two days.” A team member might say, “We have improved our throughput exponentially as a team, and as a result, we have more time to serve our customers proactively rather than being caught up in the minutia of manual processing.” Business owners might say, “By understanding our operation, we have been able to reduce costs (increase profitability), increase efficiency and most importantly, improve customer satisfaction.” At the end of the day, they are each saying the same thing: “business growth.”