When I was asked to write this article, I thought I would look on the internet and see what definitions came up. I was more than a little disappointed, especially considering some of the sources.
“Process Improvement is the proactive task of identifying, analysing and improving upon existing business processes within an organisation for optimisation and to meet new quotas or standards of quality.” 1
Waffle, means little and provides no insight into practical steps that need to be undertaken.
“Business process improvement (BPI) is a management exercise in which enterprise leaders use various methodologies to analyse their procedures to identify areas where they can improve accuracy, effectiveness and/or efficiency and then redesign those processes to realise the improvements.” 2
A little better, but again vague. The introduction of another BP term (following BPR, BPO, BPM et al.) fills me with foreboding.
“It is a measurement-based approach that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects… The Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method is a system for improving existing processes that fall below specifications.” 3
Getting better; at least this one includes a reference to a proven methodology.
My fundamental criticism of all these definitions is that they give you no idea of what has improved about the process. The third one eludes to measurement but doesn’t indicate what to measure.
At a recent FLOvate workshop we asked the question ‘What is Process Improvement?’ We also asked with an opinion as to whether each factor identified was tactical (used to support strategic factors) or strategic? The list below were the responses, with the designation for each.
|Factor Name||Strategic or Tactical?|
|Reduction of process defects||Tactical – demi-strategic|
|Reduce process cycle time||Tactical – demi-strategic|
|Enable cooperative working||Tactical|
|Enable customer self-service||Tactical|
|App enable the process||Tactical|
|End to end processing||Tactical|
|Enhance customer experience||Strategic|
|Optimise process outcomes||Strategic|
|Increase customer updates||Tactical|
|Keep customer promises||Tactical|
|Reduce failure demand||Tactical|
From this we discussed what the ideal process was and discussed a definition:
An ideal process is one which delights customers, delivers preferred process outcomes, at low cost and is compliant with relevant regulation.
This could be added to in a specific scenario; however, at a generic level this covers everything and gives four specific, strategic areas to focus on.
At FLOvate we adhere to these four strategic process elements as the basis of how we design our software. Keeping in mind that every improvement we make to the FLOvate Leap platform must materially improve one or more of these four strategic process elements. At FLOvate we call them the core strategic dimensions of process design.
- Enhanced customer experience
- Optimise process outcomes
- Reduce process execution cost
- Be compliant
The other items in the list support these strategic elements.
Of the 11 tactical elements, two are pivotal and as such can be deemed to be demi-strategic.
Process cycle time reduction enhances all the core strategic dimensions. It can be destructive if taken too far or in isolation but is a key element to improving any process and is certainly essential to measure.
Reduction of process defects also improves all the core strategic dimensions. It is aligned to Six Sigma in that identification of defects and their elimination (or adoption into the main process) is a core principle of that methodology. Process defects are costly to deal with, make customers unhappy, delay or prevent optimal process outcomes and can cause non compliance.
Improved reporting is entirely tactical as it is used to improve the process; in itself it is not a desired outcome. It can improve all four core strategic dimensions eventually; however, in the first instance it simply adds cost. Over reporting can add little value and significant cost.
Enabling cooperative working is very much within the current process digitisation evolution that many companies are undertaking. Digital cooperative working can overcome some of the difficulties when aspects of a process are undertaken by multiple specialist groups who need to work together to deliver an optimal process outcome and enhanced customer experience by enabling transparency and real time communication. However, this must be designed with the customer in mind and increase process transparency rather than removing the customer from sight. FLOvate’s low code workflow platform includes the concept of supervisor and controller roles. The supervisor is the individual in control of the delivery of the core strategic elements during the entire process and the controller is the individual responsible for delivery of the current stage.
Customer self-service and app enablement of the process are also part of process digitisation. Customer self-service is fantastic, if it is what your customers want as it improves all four core strategic dimensions. App enablement means making the self service and/or updates accessible via a mobile device (not necessarily via an app). It can improve the core strategic dimensions but in themselves are both tactical.
End to end processing is important but tactical. Your customer would almost certainly prefer one contact who has real time access to all information relating to the process, even when third parties are involved. This also reduces failure demand and optimises cycle time.
Increased customer updates are important because lack of customer updates is the second most common customer experience failure. These need to be structured, easily understood and meaningful or they will simply confuse your customers and increase your process execution costs. Apps are often the go to solution, but analysis of customer preferences often finds that SMS/email is preferred.
Keeping promises is key to customer satisfaction. Once a customer trusts your organisation to do what it has promised then process execution costs will fall. It is important to record promises systematically and deliver on them. FLOvate’s low code workflow platform Leap has the ability to record promises as simple as ‘I’ll find out and call you back’ (which is two promises) to increase the probability of the promised actions happening.
Reducing failure demand is complex. End to end digital systems are a good step to dealing with the challenges surrounding this, as is the ability to be proactive. Initiatives to reduce process cycle times also go a long way to reducing the incidence of failure demand.
As DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) suggests we have defined the elements of process improvement. For each specific process we would need to decide how we measure each of these facets (which may involve multiple measurements). We would then analyse the data and implement ways of improving each of them. Finally implementing controls that would ensure each element is continually monitored and controlled.
A little bit longer than a simple paragraph but I’m sure you’ll agree more practical and insightful.