Process Improvement Methods
Process Improvement Methodologies streamline your business operations
to make them more efficient and profitable. Explore the 12 Process Improvement Methodologies and how to pick the best amongst them.
Process Improvement Methodologies play a vital role in evaluating and developing business processes for maximum productivity, efficiency, scalability, and profitability. It affects the overall quality of the organization and influences long-term growth and change.
Learn about the top process improvement methodologies, the dos and don’ts of selecting one, and other considerations in the post below!
12 Process Improvement Methodologies in Comparison
Business Process Management (BPM)
Business Process Management is one of the commonest process improvement methodologies for implementing continuous improvement. The BPM Lifecycle follows a more hands-on approach to repeat the following steps:
- Analyze: Discover potential improvements in existing processes.
- Design/Redesign: Redesign the business process to incorporate the change.
- Execute: Test the redesigned process on a small scale.
- Monitor: Measure the KPIs and benchmark them against the previous metrics.
- Optimize: Use the data and the test process to improve business functions.
However, to truly enjoy the benefits of BPM, one would need a business process management system
that can maintain continuous monitoring and implementation of the many processes.
The Six Sigma methodology relies on data and statistics to enhance business process efficiency while eliminating variations. It originated in Motorola and also found use in General Electric before spreading out to several other ventures looking to streamline their manufacturing and business processes.
Six Sigma contains two smaller process improvement methodologies: DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), and DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify). The DMAIC is used in existing processes, while DMADV is for new business processes.
Lean thinking or lean manufacturing started in Toyota.
It focuses on differentiating value-adding activities from non-value-adding activities. The former includes actions for which the customer would pay for or is mandated from a policy or regulation angle. On the other hand, the latter is deemed wasteful. Hence, the non-value added activities are eliminated to cut costs. This philosophy ascribes a broad definition of waste, which could be:
- Quality Defects
- Untapped talent
- Unnecessary transportation
- Underutilized inventory
Total Quality Management (TQM)
In Total Quality Management, customer satisfaction is the yardstick by which businesses measure success. The US Federal Government started using TQM in the 1980s, and it has gained prominence since!
The concept of TQM and customer satisfaction may vary from company to company. However, this process improvement framework dictates the following core principles:
- Customers determine the level of quality.
- Enterprises must follow a strategic, systematic, and logical flow to achieve their end goals.
- All decisions must be supported by data.
- Increased focus on process thinking.
- All employees must work towards a common, mutual goal while implementing training and communication as a tool to reinforce the idea of quality.
Kaizen is one of the most popular process improvement methodologies that dates back to the WWII era.
In Japanese, Kaizen means to change (kai) for the better (zen). Hence, it embodies the idea of continuous improvement through continuous, gradual, and incremental changes. It believes that small changes can accrue to leave behind a large-scale impact. Hence, it aims at improving productivity and eliminating wastefulness at the smallest levels.
It also emphasizes maintaining cordial employee-manager relationships, right from assembly-line workers to the C-suite, to create harmony. In this way, it also completes a feedback loop that improves the business process.
Plan-Do-Check-Act, or PDCA or the Deming Cycle, is quite straightforward. Each stage of the PDCA cycle carries out the following role:
- Plan: Determine the problem area, analyze it, and find an appropriate solution.
- Do: Apply the solution
- All decisions must be supported by data
- Check: Analyze the impact of the solution and measure the difference
- Act: Implement the solution permanently
The PDCA cycle continues in repeat and supports the theory of continuous improvement, continuous change, and continuous feedback. One can think of PDCA as a more practical sibling of Kaizen, and it is often used with Lean Manufacturing to eliminate the eight deadly wastes.
The 5 Whys method was developed by Toyota to develop a problem-solving mindset. It carries out an in-depth analysis to discover and identify the root cause of any problem even before you start recommending improvements in the same.
The 5 Whys process is rather simple - ask “Why” five times until you filter out the primary cause. Make use of a fishbone diagram or tabular columns to use the 5 Whys. Once you are successful in identifying the actual problem, you can find an apt solution for it.
Just-in-Time, also known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), draws inspiration from the Kaizen process improvement framework. The basic tenet for both the process improvement methodologies is the same:
- Trigger small, positive improvements
- Produce only when the products are needed
- Avoid maintaining large inventory stocks
However, Just-in-Time also incorporates the following principles:
- The business’ mission, vision, and long-term philosophy must always gain precedence over short-term financial goals.
- Identify the right set of processes to drive the right results.
- Invest in the people and partners to create leaders that act in consonance with the company’s philosophy.
- Nurture an environment of learning to instill an ingrained system of continuous improvement.
- Reach a consensus before determining and implementing a problem solution.
Process engineers use this methodology in tandem with Kanban project management.
Theory of Constraints (TOC)
Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt first introduced the Theory of Constraints in the early 1980s. It makes use of the following 5-step system:
- Discover a constraint preventing the achievement of a goal
- Identify how to exploit this constraint
- Subordinate and synchronize per the constraint
- Alleviate this constraint
It systematically diminishes the obstacle to a point where it is no longer a concern.
Model-Based Integrated Process Improvement Methodology (MIPI)
MIPI offers clarity on what to do when you notice inefficiencies and how to make the change happen. It is a generic BPI model that follows a 7-step approach, which goes as follows:
- Understand business requirements
- Understand existing processes
- Carry out process modeling and analysis
- Implement the new process
- Assess new process and methodology
- Review new process
SIPOC is one of the process improvement tools that organize data relating to the people and the things associated with business processes. The primary SIPOC categories for data management are:
- Supplier - people
- Input - raw material
- Process - graphical depiction of process steps
- Output - deliverables
- Customer - internal and external customers
Cause and Effect Analysis
The Cause and Effect Analysis is yet another process improvement technique that makes use of the fishbone diagram. Using the Ishikawa diagram, businesses can discover the sources of the problem and display its effect in the subsequent process or business areas.
You can use this technique to address known problems and isolate them. Thereafter, you can have a problem-solving session where team members can brainstorm and locate a fitting solution.
Process of Selecting the Correct Process Improvement Framework
Continuous improvement is critical to a business’ growth, development, and maturation. Hence, every result depends on the process improvement framework that you choose for your organization.
As you may have seen above, several tried and tested process improvement methodologies can save you the time and effort of starting from scratch. Here is how you can choose what works for you:
- Start by defining the SMART goals that you wish to achieve using the process improvement tools.
- Analyze your business processes to identify the defects and their root causes.
- Shortlist the existing process improvement methodologies that can address these concerns.
- Compare the deliverable offered by process improvement techniques against entities like your business goal and deficiencies.
- Measure the trade-off, if any, and see if you can offset it.
- Prepare an implementation roadmap and run a feasibility test on simulating how your business may respond to this change.
- If the process improvement framework meets your requirements and appears practical, it is perfect for your business!
Common Mistakes to Avoid While Choosing Process Improvement Techniques
Here is a list of the actionable ways in which you can avoid some common mistakes that come in the way of choosing and implementing process improvement methodologies at the workplace:
- Avoid any internal conflicts or work politics to get in the way of introducing process improvement methodologies.
- Lack of documentation gives rise to confusion. Create and record the process improvement framework in writing, especially when your company’s management team changes frequently.
- Rather than going for an overnight change, opt for introducing incremental changes.
- Some segments may not even require process improvement techniques. Hence, change only what needs to be changed.
- For process improvement methodologies to remain effective, they require constant maintenance. Therefore, the process needs to remain continuous with no endpoint.
Can You Use Multiple Process Improvement Methodologies for a Single BPI Task?
Yes! In fact, it is highly advised to follow a heady mix of multiple process improvement tools to create something that will fit your operations perfectly!
It is a fact that no singular BPI methods can suit enterprises spread across the world. Hence, there is no silver bullet to address all issues at once. Thus, businesses already combine different process improvement methodologies, with Lean-Six Sigma being the most popular of them all.
Accordingly, you may customize the generic process improvement methodologies to create something unique and fitting for your business.
Now that you understand the various BPI methods and the process of choosing one for your business, it is time to put all this knowledge to practice. Experiment with suitable process improvement methodologies, and you will start noticing improvements in almost no time!