How do you assess business process improvement tools? Do you evaluate them based on the potential sales they make? In reality, what you really need from any continuous process improvement is to summarize a wealth of information.
You will also want it to provide some sort of insights into key opportunities (e.g. in productivity improvement) and threats (e.g. diminishing sales trends).
It is up to managers to encourage staff who are actually involved with executing processes to make use of the various business process improvement template structures, charts and ideation techniques (idea creation) to identify areas of improvement. Ultimately, it is your own managers who must be tasked with administering the business improvement/development techniques you identify.
The most effective business process improvement tools are as follows (listed alphabetically – pick the tools that suit your needs):
- Brainstorming - A group technique used to generate a variety of ideas, solutions and concepts. May use a combination of the other tools listed here. Evaluation of ideas is not done within the meeting since the goal is to harvest as many ideas as possible. Outsourced business process consulting firms can facilitate and direct these meetings but often your in-house staff have better insights into the business requirements to manage this.
- Cause & effect diagrams – Basic arrow diagrams used to show the probable effects of specific causes. Various factors and concerns can also be shown as inputs into the actual diagram. Can aid business process improvement through better risk management. This technique may also be used for business process modeling of operational workflows, procedures and resourcing requirements as a way of establishing opportunities within company procedures for making productivity gains.
- Check sheets – A simple chart used to tally various information according to specific categories (i.e. a check or tick is applied for each piece of information that is received and measured). Effective for continuous process improvement where continual analysis of incoming data is required. Usually is one small subset of larger business process management solutions and systems.
- Control charts - Simple plot charts displaying historical information by date (e.g. monthly sales over an ongoing period). Horizontal lines for warnings (e.g. major sales drop) and specific actions (e.g. massive spike in productivity) are used to define where changes in chart data require intervention. These are often used in server performance monitoring to highlight warning signals (e.g. overheating).
- CEDAC - (cause-and-effect diagram with additional cards). Individual cards are created for specific facts/problems (normally displayed in the left-hand side of a displayed ‘cause’ factor) along with the potential improvement card (displayed on the right-hand side of the factor). This diagram may form an integral part of the process improvement template based on identified issues/causes and the appropriate improvement that is to be used. It is also crucial as part of your risk control & risk management process for identifying and mitigating against all eventualities.
- Force-field analysis – Used for brainstorming the various forces that can either help or impede improvements and change within a project. Project managers should use these process improvement tools to highlight issues and risks to their project plans (e.g. competition, resourcing, etc.).
- Pareto analysis – Pareto’s law states that 80% of the benefits from your brainstorming sessions will come from 20% of the ideas. Use Pareto’s analysis and bar charts to identify which concepts or ideas can provide the biggest benefits (cost, time, quality) for continuous process improvement.
- Problem solving methodologies such as DRIVE (define, review, identify, verify, execute) – define the scope of your problem, review the situation, identify improvements that can be made, verify these changes will work (e.g. prototype) and execute (implement your solution in live environments).
- Process flow-charting – This simply involves using diagrams to define the work-flow on a specific process to identify areas of improvement. Process improvement tools such as Visio can easily create diagrams for a huge variety of flowcharts, maps charts, etc.
- Process mapping – Using tools such as Visio to construct a dynamic model to understand the underlying characteristics of processes (i.e. their inputs, outputs controls and resources). This is ideal when formulating an innovation strategy for pin-pointing technological areas you may need to be putting more focus on.
- Scatter diagrams – Modern spreadsheet software such as Excel can easily represent data on two axes via a scatter diagram. With enough historical information it should be possible to establish trends in the data to evaluate how increases/decreases in the x-axis affect your y-axis attribute. Use these trend diagrams within your own process improvement template to set projected improvement goals.
- Matrix analysis – A matrix is simply a two-dimensional grid used to identify where there may be a key relationship between different factors and also highlight any gaps in knowledge… certainly one of the simpler business process improvement tools that are easy to use and summarize large volumes of data quite simply.