Among many aspects of working and readings on business process improvement, one simple statement caught my imagination and I feel the profoundness of the same lying behind the simple statement. The statement said,
“There are only 2 aspects which can affect your product or service quality: Input and Process. Control both and one will have a predictable and quality product or service.” One has very little control over the marketplace and competition, but one can improve its own internal processes which can provide the organization with significant business benefits.
In my last 20+ years of process improvement consulting experience; I have come across many clients who have embraced many process improvement techniques such as ISO 9001, Six-Sigma, and Kaizen etc. However, one challenge, many process managers experiences is to spot an improvement opportunity quickly which could result in tangible benefits for business. Companies have matured their processes over time and hence probably spotting improvement opportunities are becoming increasingly difficult. Probably we have come to a situation where we have a plethora of solution techniques available to us but not a technique which can help us to identify improvement opportunities.
Based my work with multiple clients and more than 40 process improvement exercises; I have developed a simple questionnaire which can serve as a good pointer for spotting improvement opportunities. I have also added possible solutions which I have found effective.
- Is the activity adding value to the client or organization? > If not, eliminate the activity.
- Is the process done manually? > If possible, automate the process.
- Does the activity involve a transfer of data from one system to another by human intervention? > If yes, integrate the systems.
- Does the activity involve searching for appropriate information in any document? > Deploy powerful search engine tools such as Google Desktop.
- Is there a clear prioritization rule for the activity? > If not, develop prioritization rules for the activity
- Are there separate workflows for normal and exceptions? > Develop separate workflows for normal and exceptional situations.
- Are the activities bucketed into multiple complexity levels? > Develop rules to classify activities into multiple complexity buckets.
- Are activities allocated to various skilled personnel as per the complexity of the activities? > Allocate tasks as per the complexity involved.
- Does the activity involve multiple rounds of communication with stakeholders? > Develop a standardized template to collect data/problem information at the source.
- Is performance data being captured in multiple systems? > Integrate systems so that data can be captured once for all relevant systems.
- Does the activity involve frequent email communication with stakeholders? Templatize emails.
- Can the activity be carried out by a lower skilled individual through standardization? > Develop appropriate training and orientation program for lower-skilled personnel.
- Does the activity involve multiple rounds of review and approval? > Develop clear rules for auto approval - Put an audit mechanism to review approvals.
- Is there a documented procedure for the activity? > Develop a clear procedure manual so that people with lower skills can be trained on the same.
- Is there orientation and training material for the activity? Is the training automated?> Develop appropriate training and orientation materials. Develop automated training mechanisms such as eLearning or blended learning mechanism.
- Is there an SLA and productivity measurements defined for the activity? > Define and communicate SLA and productivity metrics for the activity - both under normal and exceptional situations.
- Have you done any kind of time and motion study? > Conduct time and motion study to see which activities consume time and cause discomfort for users.
- Do the executives find physical discomfort in processing the activity such as switching between multiple applications/screens? > Conduct time and motion study to see how the discomfort can be reduced such as providing a 2nd monitor.
- Are all requests tracked in a centralized system? > Develop a centralized tracking system.
- Can the activity be carried out the end-user himself through some technology implementation? > Develop self-service modules for end-users.
Hope these pointers will help anyone who is looking for improving their business processes. Please feel free to contact me in case you have other improvement suggestions.