| Written by Mark Buzinkay
The process improvement plan offers an avenue to locate and systematically pinpoint problem areas. As a result, it's easier to narrow down and find underlying challenges to efficiency.
The process improvement plan steps will guide you through this project and eventually solve these problems faster to achieve a productive, efficient culture.
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A process improvement plan is an agenda defining how to improve your processes after analysing and identifying them to help you get better at what you do. The goal is to eliminate bottlenecks in business operations. By identifying these weak points, efficiency will increase. Examples may be:
Reduced process completion time
Improved process quality
Eliminated wasted efforts
Minimised friction in business processes
Met regulatory compliance
Due to an ever-changing environment, businesses seek to remain constantly agile to respond to this dynamic - technology changes, customer demands shift, and competitors enter the market. 'Being agile' means looking for ways to innovate, evolve and improve, resulting in higher-quality products & services that can be designed, developed and distributed in increasingly cost-efficient ways. Process improvement plans help businesses spot areas for potential improvement and develop strategies for implementation and define measures of success.
Continuous improvement plans will eventually result in workplace efficiency and engaged employees, more efficient operations, better communication involvement, increased innovation, and better customer service. For instance, inefficient processes are highly disruptive for employees, lead to frustration, and cause employees' morale to decline.
Obviously, process improvement plans have the most impact on operations as they remove wasted motion, time-consuming components, and unnecessary tasks.
A process improvement plan is an answer to the question of how to improve processes systematically, including:
How do we want to measure the performance (of internal processes)?
What are the reasons for inefficient processes?
Which improvements can be made to which processes?
Process improvement is a process itself. It is critical in order to become a productive organisation. The plan for process improvement is the strategy that guides this undertaking. The following steps could be the cornerstones of your process improvement plan:
1) Mapping the process
A process is a sequence of tasks and human interactions, input and output, tools, and information to achieve the desired outcome. This sequence must be documented in some sort of document to have a clear picture of responsibilities and tasks. Furthermore, processes can be visualised as a "map" or flowchart, making them better readable. It is easier to understand a flow of events by having an overview than by reading a wordy description.
As a result, a flowchart can be broken down into smaller parts and enriched with more information which may be necessary for better understanding and, eventually, leads to ideas on how to improve it. It helps to provide an overview of the entire process and focus on single sections.
2) Analysing the process
Analysing looks deeper into the process, evaluating each process step and trying to discover gaps of inefficiency. This is the process improvement plan stage where we will detect opportunities to improve our company. We will describe this aspect further below in more detail.
3) Redesign the process
Once inefficiencies are discovered, the process improvement team can now begin adjusting their strategy and adjusting the process to eliminate those friction points. In order to achieve this, all aspects of the process should be put into debate:
What parts of this process can we eliminate and still meet our goals?
How can we adapt a process step to improve quality, speed or output?
Collaborative working will help you come up with potential solutions to these questions. Each idea should be presented to and approved by the people who are supposed to execute the process. You must think about how the team would carry out each idea, identify potential risks, and, if possible, simulate the process to learn about its effects. For example: How will real-time visibility lead to an efficient vehicle yard management?
This stage is carried out on the drawing board and helps the process improvement team visualise what their updated process will look like in operation so they can make any necessary changes before and during testing.
4) Acquire approval and resources
When an alternative is chosen, everyone involved or affected by the process changes must give their approval. Besides, it is necessary to acquire the resources needed to implement the changes outlined in the updated process plan. This includes technical support, increased budget and executive buy-in.
The aim is to equip the process improvement team with the resources necessary for implementing the updated process into reality.
5) Implement and communicate the updated process
At this point, the process improvement team executes their improved process in a real-life scenario. But, first, the outcome of the process improvement project must be communicated throughout the company before the changes can be implemented.
6) Review the process
Once the changes have been implemented, the process can be executed. However, it should be monitored for a quick fix if necessary. More importantly, it must be analysed to see if the adapted process is delivering improvements or not.
This leads to gradual improvement that helps the team achieve the ultimate aim of utilising systems and processes—achieving targets on time and under budget.
Further reading: Asset Tracking - RTLS, RFID and software
As you know now the main steps of improving a process, it's time to dive a bit deeper into the question: "Where do I find opportunities for process improvement?" This is the creative part of process research and is based partly on the documented, sometimes visualised process and partly on the reality of the process. As you will experience, a process may be executed differently than on paper. The reason is simple: it's the way how it works.
Detecting a difference between theory (paper) and reality (execution) is always a reason to ask: Why is this? No matter what answer you will get, there is a truth. And it is an opportunity to ask the people involved about the reasons. Digging deeper will give you insights that go beyond a simple process optimisation. It offers many opportunities to understand the context and factors that determine how a process is. It will give you the answers to how to adapt a process to improve and not worsen it.
Talking to involved people, good starting points are:
Tell me about your daily schedule and tasks
Describe this process in your own words
How do you feel about this process?
Where does work stagnate?
How do you define resource waste?
What information do you need, and how do you ensure you get access to it?
One of the best interview techniques is to let people talk as they choose what makes sense to them and its importance. This is already part of the answer to where to look for process improvement opportunities.
If you hear one of the following answers, you know that you found one piece of your process improvement plan:
Waiting to obtain information from another source.
Creating paper records when electronic ones would be good enough.
Slowing down because of information that is in a form that cannot be used.
Having to throw away perished stuff.
Spending extra time finding information.
Using space to store inventory that turns over infrequently.
Repackaging products to meet customer needs.
Doing tasks several times (duplication)
All the above examples are just a few of many that will indicate an underlying efficiency problem. Once you have discovered one, there are more to find and bring to the surface. Learn more: How RTLS improves efficiency in the automotive sector.
The process improvement plan offers an avenue to locate and systematically pinpoint problem areas. As a result, it's easier to narrow down and find underlying challenges to efficiency. The process improvement plan steps will guide you through this project and eventually solve these problems faster to achieve a productive culture.