Guest Post: Susan Page on Facilitating Business Process Improvement

The following is a guest post by Susan Page, author of The Power of Business Process Improvement.

You may have worked with Lean Manufacturing for years, but is everyone in your organization on the same page? How do you facilitate business process improvement (BPI) in a manner that empowers your workforce? How do you retain the improvements achieved post implementation?

If you want to standardize your approach to BPI and sustain your improvements, these 10 steps provide structure and organization, enabling you to engage more colleagues in the work.

Step 1: Create the Process Inventory. Develop criteria that you can use to prioritize the items in your inventory. Completing this step quickly shows you where to initially focus your energy.

Step 2: Establish the Foundation. Describe key elements of the process so that you can avoid scope creep as the work progresses. This includes writing a user-friendly description of the process, deciding on the boundaries (where the process begins and ends), identifying the customer and their needs, and how you will know if the process succeeds (measurements of success). This will help your team develop a common understanding and allow you to stay on track.

Step 3: Draw the Process Map. Decide whether you should draw a high-level or more detailed-level process map. Use the boundaries established in step 2 to get started by looking at what you wrote as the “beginning” of the process.

Step 4: Estimate Time and Cost. Add how long each activity takes directly on the process map to identify the process time. To define the cycle time, add the elapsed or waiting time to the process time. Once you have identified how long each activity takes, you know how much labor a business process consumes and you can then add the annual volume handled by the business process and employee salaries (or total overhead costs, if desired) to identify the total annual cost.

Step 5: Verify the Process Map. This step will help you avoid someone challenging an improvement statistic that may surface later.

Step 6: Apply Improvement Techniques. Going through a series of techniques in a particular order helps you obtain the most from each step. The key is to stay customer focused as you work through eliminating bureaucracy and non-value added activities. Avoid the politics! Consider automating an activity as the last resort, so that you make certain that the activity should remain part of the process. For example, do not create a spreadsheet to automate an activity when it should be eliminated.

Step 7: Create Internal Controls, Tool, and Metrics. Flag potential problem spots in the business process and develop an internal control to prevent human error from occurring. Also, take inventory of what applications you have available and don’t forget everyday applications that you have on your desktop. Develop any tools you identified in step 6 during step 7. Lastly, revisit the “measurements of success” you identified in step 2 and turn the key ones into metrics. If you have too many potential metrics to start with, try to include at least one effectiveness, one efficiency, and one adaptability metric.

Step 8: Test and Rework. Before introducing change to your organization, you want to make certain that everything works as planned. Test the changes you plan to make and focus on any new tools you developed. The time spent here can vary depending on the degree of change.

Step 9: Implement Change. This step is really the change management process. You should identify any potential challenges you expect to encounter as you develop the improved process map in step 6. Identify the rationale for the change, who is impacted, and details about the potential challenge. Also, develop the communication and training plans during this step so you know who to communicate with or train.

Step 10: Drive Continuous Improvement. Look ahead and put a plan in place to revisit the process on a regular basis. This will help you to stay competitive, make certain you continue to meet your customer needs, and ensure you keep pace with changing technology. This is where you decide, for example, how often you plan to revisit your customer needs or metrics.

These simple steps help you develop a business language you can use with colleagues that doesn’t sound too technical. Over the years, I have found people I work with to be more open to BPI when I avoid quality-related terms and use simple, everyday terminology.

For more information on how to enhance your BPI, check out my book The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability.

Susan Page is an experienced business process improvement consultant for the computer, banking, and entertainment industries. She has a Master’s degree in Computer Information Systems and is a graduate of the WOMEN Unlimited LEAD program. She currently works for a major entertainment company in Orlando, Florida.


2 responses to “Guest Post: Susan Page on Facilitating Business Process Improvement

  1. As a process mapping consultant, it is imperative to get everyone to see not only their own procedures, but how As a process mapping consultant, it is imperative to get everyone to see not only their own procedures, but how they interconnect into the organizational structure. Once in place and agreed upon by all the contributors, you begin to be able to challenge the current way of doing business and assist them in finding inefficiencies that could be costing the business thousands of dollars.

    When defining the as-is process, the following methods may also assist in accomplishing the objective:

    1. Invite a manager to the session – An executive level manager who is not intimate with the lower level steps can help determine if business rules are being supported or not. They can also become a catalyst for change and challenge the way things are done because they are not so close to the daily tasks that make up the process.

    2. Using a Swimlane format can help breakdown the various parts of a complex process into organized “lanes” that allow anyone to track the entire process. Helping the team analyze this process using a Swimlane configuration enables them to logically follow the sequence of steps, specific rules within the processes.

    3. Sometimes the reason behind the traditional rules is simple” We have just always done it this way”. Challenge the team by helping them understand why they currently do things in their approval cycles.

    Gravity Gardener

  2. Hi Susan,

    Great post. As an executive in a company that offers a SaaS platform for Business Process Improvement I could relate directly to more than one of the steps that you describe. Our platform is unique in that it helps the company understand what is really going on in a unique and unequivocally beneficial way. It is typically used in step 1 to determine a company’s “current reality” in a manner that they could not do on their own. It offers a view of the company that creates a strategic impression of the strengths and weaknesses that must be examined and it helps prioritize remediation actions; all relating to steps 2, 6, 7 and 9. Most companies that use our methodology revisit the assessment periodically (step 10) to drive continuous improvement. There are many consultants that have adapted the methodology to their practice as a tool to make their consulting process more effective, efficient and competitive in the marketplace. To learn how companies are using this methodology

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