Process improvement is the procedure of analyzing, identifying and improving processes within a business to enhance overall quality. There are a wide range of systematic approaches, methodologies and tools available to support process improvement.
In this guide, we’ll delve into some of the common techniques to transform your organization’s processes.
What tools and techniques are commonly used for process improvement?
Six Sigma Tools
Six Sigma involves the collection and analysis of data to minimize cycle time and defects. Additionally, the Six Sigma process works to improve customer satisfaction.
One of the main tools used in Six Sigma to improve existing processes is DMAIC; this procedure stands for the following principles:
Define: the first thing that you need to do is to define the problem, and from here you can make determinations about the requirements.
Measure: next, you need to decide the CTQ (critical to quality) aspects of the process. From here, you can put in place metrics to measure CTQ and then collect all the data.
Analyze: you’ll need to analyze the data that you’ve collected, including a GAP analysis. (GAP analysis refers to determining the gap between a company’s current and future state. You’ll decide upon steps to bridge this gap). To do so, you’ll need to find the cause of the problem areas (in terms of the process).
Improve: you’ll need to assess the impacts, costs and benefits of the different approaches that you could use to solve the problem. You can perform a pilot and test your chosen solutions. As well as this, you can analyze CTQ metrics that you find from the pilot.
Control: during the last stage, you should utilize the solutions that your results indicated were effective.
DMADV is another method which is used to create Six Sigma processes. Whereas DMAIC is focused around improving existing processes, DMADV is used when creating new processes. If the processes a company has in place do not meet the quality levels desired, a DMADV can be used to re-design the processes in question.
DMADV stands for, ‘define, measure, analyze, design, verify.’ Some of the steps are similar to DMAIC but with some differences:
Define: in this stage, you'll state the problem, specify the stakeholder or customer needs, identify the goals, and outline the target process.
Measure: as you are designing a new product or process, this stage is about determining what factors will be important to the customer. These factors are subsequently linked to quality, which leads to CTQs.
Analyze: working in conjunction with the measure phase is the analyze phase, where design alternatives are developed and you'll determine the optimum combination of requirements.
Design: the design phase is where you'll document the detailed process that meets the customer’s requirements.
Verify: in the final phase, you'll verify that the customer’s needs are met through the use of the newly designed process.
Simulation plays a vital role when it comes to the improvement of processes. Simulation techniques are an excellent way to test improvements in a way that’s cost-effective, minimally-invasive and free of risk.
A simulation is essentially a model that functions to mimic the operation of a proposed or real system. A simulation will be time-based and will consider resources and constraints as well as interactions. Such software might be used to, for instance, represent the staff assignment within a hospital, or operations within a typical day at a bank.
Simulation is a powerful tool because you can check and try process changes with ease and at speed. You can gain fast insights to make improvements within your organization.
Modeling via simulation allows you to gather a huge amount of insight without having to deploy the changes in the real world. You’ll save your company money because you’ll never be investing without knowing if your idea is actually workable first. Simulation allows you to identify the risks before going into a situation and thus, you can adequately prepare yourself.
The fantastic thing about simulation is that it also helps you to engage staff in the procedure of developing process improvements. Simulation allows those involved in the projects to visualize and determine benefits along with the limitations that need to be solved.
Lean Manufacturing is a process which works to eliminate business waste, and by doing so, increasing output. There are generally seven different types of waste which lean manufacturing will aim to reduce.
Transport: the inefficient transportation of goods or business materials.
Motion: If there is lots of time being wasted between finishing one task and starting the next.
Waiting: Related to motion, when there’s wasted time between production steps, i.e. employees experience time whereby they have nothing to do.
Over-processing: when more resources and time are put into producing a product than needed.
Overproduction: no immediate or real demand for a certain product, yet lots of the product is still produced.
Defects: too much time wasted altering mistakes in the production process.
Inventory: your existing inventory is higher than it should be.
One Lean tool which is used to prevent such types of waste is PDCA<. You can use PDCA to improve any one of the seven waste types in a process. PDCA stands for ‘plan’, as in to determine what the issue is and then to take steps to analyze it and find some kind of solution. The next part of the PDCA process is ‘do’; as in to put the chosen solution in place. After this stage, you’ll need to ‘check’ by making a comparison of the new process against the previous process. You can move on if the new process performs better than the former. If the new process does not perform better, you will have to return to the beginning of PDCA. The last step is ‘act’, referring to putting the process in place (once you are entirely convinced of its effectiveness).
Process mapping is whereby you create a diagram to depict the finest details of your process. A few examples of this might be flowcharts, value stream mapping or BPMN.
It’s beneficial to understand precisely how a given process works and exactly where improvements can be made. You can even import such diagrams into a simulation afterwards. Doing so will enhance the quality of your data and analysis further.
BPMN stands for Business Process Modeling Notation. BPMN uses a flowchart to represent all the different steps of a planned business process. With BPMN, you get an overview of the sequence. The overview includes all of the information flows and company activities that are needed to complete a process.
BPMN works to provide clarity to the different company activities. It shows the relationship and connection between intention and the implementation of each sequence. BPMN shows different elements for process diagrams, from flow objects to artifacts and connecting objects. One flow object, for example, is a gateway; a gateway is the point of a decision which can, in turn, change the path based on an event or a condition. Artifacts are extra pieces of information which are added to enhance the details of the diagram; these might include annotations.
Process mining revolves around the use event log data generated from ERP, CRM, Service Management, BPM and a huge range of other workflow systems. Software is used to ‘mine’ this data by applying algorithms to map the sequence of activities and resources involved in a process flow.
There are three typical components to effective process mining. Most businesses lean on process mining as a tool of Discovery, highlighting inefficiencies and gaps in productivity which they can then try to fix. Businesses that want to take this one step further will use process mining for Conformance, which involves benchmarking current processes against a set of desired functions, usually in the interests of meeting compliance and regulatory objectives. Then finally there’s Enhancement, which is about making those changes and fulfilling those objectives.
A SIPOC is a tool used to document business processes. The acronym stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers. A SIPOC diagram can be used to problem solve a company process. Those who are not familiar with all the important aspects of the company can be given an in-depth overview using a SIPOC. A SIPOC can be used to help your business to understand precisely who the suppliers are of each given process and how your inputs should function.
When you create a SIPOC, you’ll want to begin with the name of the process which you wish to analyze, and write down its essential steps. When doing so, ensure that you know where the process starts and where it ends. You’ll also need to specify the outputs of the process, and identify your customers (or the people who will stand to benefit or gain from this process).
TQM stands for Total Quality Management. Usually, those businesses who use TQM will follow guidelines which entail a systematic approach to achieving their aims and goals. Employees will all work together toward the same goals and customers will determine the level of quality. Businesses using TQM will define the steps of a process and then monitor performance. Companies will use TQM diagrams to troubleshoot quality issues.
Some companies opt for using ‘DRIVE’ to work on improving their processes. The first stage of drive stands for ‘define’ as in; to define the scope of your procedure along with the criteria that you will use to measure success. The ‘r’ in drive stands for review; collect data and make a review of the existing process. You can use your review data as a foundation for positive change. The next step is ‘verify’; verify that the changes and improvements in place can achieve the goals that were set out initially. Lastly, you’ll have to ‘execute’ the set plan as well as collecting feedback about the results.
Why is Simul8 simulation software the best way to analyze and improve processes?
Simul8 helps your business to consistently fire on all cylinders. Understand where and why bottlenecks, over-utilized resources and under-resourced elements are happening and rapidly experiment with solutions.
Quickly pinpoint problem areas
Simul8 is visual and animated, so you can easily see what’s happening in a process over time. You’ll gain insight into the flow of business processes, find causes of process inefficiencies, bottlenecks, weaknesses and so much more.
Unlimited, risk-free experimentation
Experimenting in the real world is full of risk and costs. By thoroughly testing changes with Simul8, you can find the right solutions and avoid costly mistakes down the line.
Guide thinking and communication
Simulation is a great vehicle for understanding every aspect of a process. When it comes to communicating your proposals, Simul8 is a much more interactive and engaging way to present your ideas to stakeholders.
Drive day-to-day decision-making
The key to a competitive organization is constant improvement. Simul8 enables you to build digital twins continually monitor performance, highlight problems and make informed, effective day-to-day decisions.