July 17, 2024

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Improving a Business Process

Improving a Business Process

If you are new to business process work, you may be eager to focus immediately on how you can improve a process, but resist jumping in too quickly to see what you can fix. You first want to know the baseline, so you can see whether your improvements work. To establish your baseline, start by identifying the boundaries so that you understand the start and end of the process, drawing the map so that you have identified the activities involved, estimating how long the process takes and how much it costs, and validating that the information you have collected is correct before moving to the improvement step.

Improving a business process is similar to losing weight. You know that you have to change your daily routine. You may change your eating habits and eliminate dessert, add an exercise like jogging, or partner with a friend for motivation. The same kind of evaluation has to occur to improve a business process.

There are many techniques that you can use, to look for improvement opportunities including:

  • eliminating bureaucracy (even though it is easier said than done, it is possible)
  • evaluating value-added activities (what the customer or client really cares about)
  • eliminating duplication and redundancy (why do things twice)
  • simplifying everything (or KISS – keep it simple
  • reducing cycle time (a key concern of customers or clients)
  • looking at how you can automate the process

Of course, you can use any technique that you find useful, but I have found these six methods consistently helpful. I like to apply each of the techniques one at a time and in a certain order because doing so helps to make sure that you wring every last drop of improvement out of each one. So, spend time challenging bureaucracy; determine which activities add value to your customers/clients; look for opportunities to reduce the number of employees doing the same thing, simplifying forms, or streamlining a step in the process; and set a cycle time reduction target.

One question you have to deal with in process improvement is around technology:

Does the technology drive the process?


Does the process drive the technology?

If you have been involved in a large system implementation, then you have probably seen the technology drive the process. I feel that you should only automate an efficient, not an inefficient process, so I prefer the latter.

Bill Gates is credited with saying, “The first principle for any technology you contemplate introducing into a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will just entrench the inefficiency.”

Applying improvement techniques is the sixth step to improving the effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability of your business.

Copyright 2010 Susan Page