Improving a process requires facts

How many times have you been in a meeting where serious business process improvements have been discussed? How many times have those meetings been lacking any real substance? Improving a process cannot be done on a whim, it needs to be done with facts and figures; good process improvement is information driven.

One company that I used to work for would constantly be changing their business processes. Something wasn't working, so it got changed. A few weeks later the same issue would arise and another change would be instigated. The cycle repeated. Each ill-informed change would take time and effort, but not truly address the challenges being faced by the business. The small investment in effort to gather the information required to make an informed decision wasn't being made, but countless inefficiencies down the line were tolerated. Thankfully I was eventually able to get involved with this process and lead by example; basing decisions on data, information and insight.

One of the most effective tools around is the 'Process Flow Analysis' tool. This is a veteran of the process improvement world, but a tool that seems to be largely ignored outside of the process improvement community.

The core elements of a Process Flow Analysis include:

  • Recording each step of the process.
  • Capturing the associated distances travelled and time taken.
  • Determining the type of activity being recorded (operation, travel, delay, inspection or storage).

The art of a good process flow analysis exercise is to capture every single step in a process. To put this into its proper perspective, one business' member of staff stated "I get the order out of my email, print it out and put it in my colleagues in-tray. He then takes it and processes it. Thirty seconds. That's it. I don't know why we need to do this analysis!"

After some clarification the real picture was:

  1. Process emails for order: 1 minute.
  2. Collect printed order from printer and leave in colleagues in tray: 2 minutes.
  3. Delay waiting for colleague to process previous day's orders: 4.5 hours.

Yes, you read that right. The perception was that this part of the process took around 30 seconds. The reality is, if you follow the order, that the process is just over four and half hours. Being thorough and getting down to the detail level is where you can find opportunities waiting for you in your business.

StreamLiner

Find out more about the StreamLiner continuous improvement project software by clicking here.

Within the StreamLiner software, process flow analysis is a core tool to help you identify improvements within your business. Templates are included to help your staff quickly undertake this kind of analysis and we've modified the process flow analysis format slightly. This modification enables the person undertaking the analysis to improve the organisation of the process, improving the overall flow of the process and better utilising any 'dead' time held within the process.

Not only will StreamLiner help you to capture and manage the process flow analysis information, it will also allow you to swiftly convert key opportunities into improvement actions. This functionality means that you can review a business process from a variety of perspectives and then gather all of the improvement actions together. Our built-in prioritisation system means that you can manage the improvement activities in the most effective manner for your business.

Good process improvement really is about having good information, so that you can identify the right improvements, and make effective changes. StreamLiner is a great tool for doing this.

Some of the feedback we have gained about this approach from Continuous Improvement Managers and Operations Managers who use our software is that this centralised management of improvement opportunities takes away the need for having numerous project plans and getting lost in the details. StreamLiner takes care of the organisation, so that you can take care of the making it happen part.

Giles Johnston

Smartspeed Consulting Limited

Author of Business Process Re-Engineering and co-creator of the 'StreamLiner' continuous improvement software tool.