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Process improvement explained simply…. For the layman

This week, I’ve been engaged in further process improvement with some clients, so I thought I’d summarize some thoughts on the basic principles of process improvement. This follows my previous article on the benefits of process improvement.

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand that almost everything in business is a process. Hence, any effort to reduce friction in a process will yield positive results.

When working with a team, my initial focus is to ensure that the entire team comprehends the process. Without this understanding, any efforts made are likely to be wasteful in terms of time and money. I ask the team to explain the process in detail, understand the steps, the rationale behind each step, and the expected outcomes. Specifically quantifying expectations at each step, defining success criteria, and estimating time taken. Visual mapping of the process aids in identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

Once the “current state” is clear, we move on to understanding the “desired state.” This involves mapping out what the process would look like in an ideal world. It requires thoughtful consideration of what is acceptable at each step and quantifying success criteria. This establishes our target or “true North.”

Next, we assign responsibilities for each step and sub-step in the process, ensuring clarity and eliminating ambiguity. This allows for holding individuals accountable.

With clear definitions of what needs to be done, how it will be done, and who is responsible for what, we can start tracking each step’s progress and outcomes. Any deviations from the expected outcome are noted, and the barriers to achieving success are identified. This enables us to remove the obstacles hindering the process. Just monitoring and measuring the process at this stage can lead to significant improvements in operational efficiency.

Once we are in the habit of making small improvements, we can target more impactful changes to move closer to the “perfect world” process we identified earlier.

After implementing changes, we review their impact and assess whether they have moved us closer to our goal. If successful, great! We stay on the right track. If not, we course-correct and try again. It may take time, but focusing on these steps ensures that your process becomes as smooth and efficient as possible with the available resources.

Undoubtedly, it’s not an easy task, but the effort is worthwhile because the easier you make it for your teams to work, the happier they’ll be, and the happier you’ll be. Not to mention the financial benefits you’ve read about extensively.

Until next time, happy process improving!

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