Focusing for Process Improvement: a Quick Look

by Budd Babb, PH.D

Budd's relaxed yet focused management consulting style is a natural fit to a wide-variety of complex organizations committed to continuous improvement throughout the state of Maryland. He works best with proactive organizational leaders that are truly committed to ensuring that employees are seen as their organization's "most important asset." His extensive skills and knowledge have been sharpened over the past 25 years by serving clients in a wide-variety of successful organizations throughout the United States, Canada, the Arctic, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Japan. He has a deep understanding of organizational behavior and systems, change management and work process redesign. He helps his client organizations achieve success by making sure that everyone can and is expected to bring their "Heads and Hearts" to work every day. He is a relationship builder who easily supports his clients' ongoing successes in manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, higher education and social service organizations. He is especially talented in helping his clients develop truly operational strategic plans, provide practical solutions to difficult problems, build effective internal leadership and team skills, and design work processes that improve quality, productivity, reduce delivery times and enhance customer loyalty.

Managers and work team leaders are increasingly looking for ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key work processes, whether they are in manufacturing, service, education, healthcare or government organizations. Thoughtful leaders want to reduce costs and simultaneously increase quality and productivity, whatever the purpose of the organization.

Much of the current process improvement activity is based on learning and doing that comes out the quality revolution of the last 40 years. One of the major understandings that guide effective quality management is the principle of continuous improvement.

Successful leaders know that perfection is impossible yet the effort to improve is a constant in successful organizations. This is based on the reality that there is no steady state in life, either things atrophy and die or they are purposely focused on ways that improve what is done. Leaders that understand this reality commit to following: organizational design principles that are focused on quality and continuous improvement. They avoid critical wastes that cause process failures, wastes or errors, and they use simple but powerful process mapping techniques.

Organizational Design Principles for Quality and Continuous Improvement

  1. The Customer Pulls the Process
  2. Commit to a Quality First Policy
  3. Do only those things that Add Value for the Customer
  4. Never Pass on a Problem or Error to the Next Person or Step in the Process
  5. Consciously and Constantly Correct, Control or Improve the Method, the Process or the System
  6. Develop and Use Reliable Methods to Ensure Process Control
  7. Manage by Facts and Data Not Emotion
  8. Create a Psychologically and Physically Safe Environment
  9. Involve Everyone's Head and Heart
  10. Continuously Improve the Method, the Process, the System and the Organization!

Critical Wastes Causing Process Failure Points and Errors

  1. Waste of Time - Time out of control
  2. Waste of Errors - Doing something 2 or 3 times to get it right
  3. Waste of Materials - Using more materials than needed
  4. Waste of Idle Inventory - Just-In Case Inventory
  5. Waste of Transportation - Unnecessary moves or distances
  6. Waste of Energy - Using more power than needed
  7. Waste of Space - Inappropriate use of space
  8. Waste of Overproduction - Producing more than needed
  9. Waste of Labor - Too many people doing the job
  10. Waste of Complexity - Unnecessary steps or check points

Process Mapping for Improvement

Keeping in mind the design principles and critical wastes noted previously, managers and team leaders that are focused on establishing sound work processes or improving key processes can utilize traditional process mapping techniques listed here.

  1. DESCRIBE the process - Note the START and END points first, then list all the current steps in order
  2. ANALYZE the process
  3. Identify FAIL POINTS, weaknesses, non-value added steps
  4. Prioritize HIGH IMPACT FAIL POINTS
  5. Identify ROOT CAUSES of high impact fail points, using a Cause & Effect Diagram
  6. Generate IMPROVEMENTS to the process
  7. REDESIGN the process
  8. Establish an IMPLEMENTATION PLAN

Understanding and utilizing these process mapping steps, along with knowing quality and continuous improvement design principles and being guided by critical wastes causing failure points are the three primary ways to attack work process issues. This article does not imply that successful process improvement can be achieved without understanding, as well as, the use of additional tools and insights.

Measurement Tools

  • The difference between End-Result Objectives and In-Process Indicators
  • Control & Other Statistical Charts
  • Pareto Diagrams
  • Check Lists
  • Cause &Effect Diagrams

This "focused" presentation is intended to serve as a foundation for understanding and doing successful process improvement in any work process in any organization. The author has facilitated "value-added" improvements in universities, hospitals, social services, government agencies and manufacturing organizations.