How to Improve Your Processes for Maximum Efficiency
Process improvement is crucial for organizational success. It helps organizations to stay competitive, reduce costs, improve quality and efficiency, become more responsive to changing market conditions, and encourage innovation. There are several process improvement methodologies available, each with its own set of tools and techniques. However, these tools rely heavily on people’s creativity and analytical skills, which can be a trial-and-error process for teams. PRIZ Guru offers analytical and problem-solving tools to assist engineers at any step of the process improvement undertaking, equipping teams to overcome barriers during this initiative.
What is process?
As usual, we will start with an official definition, and our favorite source is the Cambridge Dictionary. According to the Cambridge Dictionary
A process is a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result.
Processes can be found in a wide range of contexts, from manufacturing to service industries, and can be simple or complex.
To provide some examples of processes in different industries:
Healthcare Industry: The patient admission process, patient discharge process, and medication dispensing process are crucial for ensuring quality patient care.
Banking Industry: The loan application process, account opening process, and credit assessment process are vital components of banking operations.
Retail Industry: The inventory management process, supply chain management process, and point-of-sale process are all essential for the success of a retail business.
Education Industry: The student enrolment process, course registration process, and grading process are critical for ensuring a smooth educational experience.
We can continue this list indefinitely. Even such a simple task as walking a dog involves a process. At this point, we can safely assume that processes are ubiquitous in everything we do.
Clear processes are essential for successful manufacturing, where efficiency and high-quality production are critical. They ensure consistency and quality, reducing the risk of costly mistakes and defects that can eventually lead to customer dissatisfaction.
What is Process Improvement?
Process improvement is a continuous effort to identify, analyze, and make changes in order to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve quality. The benefits of process improvement for organizations are clear and numerous, including:
Increased efficiency: Streamlining processes reduces the time and effort required to complete tasks, resulting in increased productivity and efficiency.
Reduced costs: Identifying and eliminating wasteful activities and inefficiencies can reduce costs and improve the bottom line.
Improved quality: Addressing issues in processes improves the quality of products and services, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Increased agility: Continuously improving processes make organizations more agile and responsive to changing market conditions and customer needs.
Increased innovation: Encouraging process improvement fosters a culture of innovation, where employees are encouraged and enabled to think creatively and find new ways to improve products and services.
To summarize, process improvement is a key component of organizational success, helping organizations stay competitive, reduce costs, and improve quality and efficiency.
Process improvement is problem solving.
Popular Process Improvement Methodologies
There are many process improvement and optimization methodologies available, each with its own set of tools and techniques. We just want to name a few:
Six Sigma: A data-driven methodology that focuses on reducing defects and improving quality by identifying and eliminating the causes of variation in a process.
Lean: A methodology that focuses on eliminating waste and improving efficiency by streamlining processes and reducing non-value-added activities.
Agile: A methodology that emphasizes flexibility and collaboration by breaking work into small, manageable chunks and using iterative feedback loops to continuously improve.
Total Quality Management (TQM): A methodology that focuses on continuous improvement by involving all employees in the process and emphasizing customer satisfaction.
At a high level, all of these methodologies offer systematic approaches for identifying and resolving process issues. They involve analyzing data, identifying the root causes of problems, and implementing solutions to address those root causes. The ultimate goal is to solve problems in a structured and methodical manner, rather than simply treating the symptoms.
Process Improvement Tools
There are multiple SaaS tools that help us to create, track, and even optimize processes.
Process Street: A process management and automation platform that allows businesses to create, track, and optimize their standard operating procedures. This is probably my favorite!
ProcessMaker: A low-code business process management software that allows users to design and automate complex workflows.
Kissflow: A digital workplace platform that helps businesses automate workflows and manage business processes.
Lucidchart: A visual diagramming and collaboration tool that can be used to create process maps and flowcharts.
Asana: A project management software that can be used to manage and optimize workflows and processes.
PRIZ Guru: Machine Assisted Facilitator for Problem-Solving and Innovation Projects. I will expand on this later.
These are just a few examples of the many SaaS tools available that can help with process improvement.
There is one problem with process improvement tools: they heavily rely on people’s creativity and analytical skills to solve the problems in processes and achieve good results. This often leads to a trial and error process for teams. In some cases, larger organizations may seek help from process consultants or similar professionals.
This is where PRIZ Guru comes in. The PRIZ Innovation Platform offers a variety of analytical and problem-solving tools to assist engineers at any step of the process improvement undertaking. With PRIZ, your team will be better equipped to overcome many barriers during this initiative. In the next section, we will explain how.
Identifying the right process to improve is a crucial step. It’s important to select a process that is critical to the business and has a significant impact on customers. Many different parameters may be considered when selecting a process, including:
Customer complaints: Look for processes that generate the most customer complaints or negative feedback.
Process bottlenecks: Identify processes that cause delays or bottlenecks in the workflow.
Process complexity: Analyze processes that are overly complex and require a lot of manual intervention.
Process costs: Look for processes that cost the organization the most in terms of time and money.
Process cycle time: Identify processes with long cycle times or multiple handoffs between employees.
Aside from continuously collecting statistics about different processes in an organization, there are no other magic ways to obtain this information. Luckily, anyone involved in the process can probably describe in detail how painful it is. Additionally, tools like Process Street can provide valuable assistance in understanding these processes.
Map/define the process
Once the process improvement steps have been identified, it is important to map out the process. This involves documenting the high-level process and identifying its inputs, outputs, and stakeholders. There are several ways to visualize a process, including process maps, flowcharts, and value stream maps.
A more effective tool for process mapping is the Process Functional Model (PFM), which is available on the PRIZ Innovation Platform. PFM is an analytical tool that helps us learn about a process by modeling different operations, identifying and solving problems, and defining ways to improve any fabrication process. PFM not only allows us to visualize and understand the process but also enables deeper analysis of process bottlenecks and inefficiencies.
Analyze the process
Once a process has been mapped out, it’s important to analyze it for bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and waste. The PRIZ toolset can help in this phase as well. While the Process Functional Model helps on a process level, the System Functional Model (SFM) helps to analyze every step within the process.
The SFM, also known as Function Modeling, is a popular problem-solving tool that uses functional language to model a problem and identify problematic and functional components. Its ultimate goal is to understand the efficiency of an operation and identify any components within it that are contributing to inefficiencies.
By using both the Process Functional Model and the System Functional Model, organizations can map their processes and identify any inefficiencies.
Identify the least efficient steps
After completing the previous two phases with PRIZ tools, this step is as simple as reading the results and following some helpful recommendations.
As the title suggests, the main goal at this point is to identify the least efficient operation based on the Functional/Problematic Ratio of an operation (also known as operation merit).
To learn how to use the Process Functional Modeling tool, check out our documentation here.
Analyzing the steps of a process is one of the main benefits of using the Process Functional Model in the PRIZ platform. Here, you can analyze and understand the inefficiencies of each step in the process you are optimizing.
Finally, we have reached the stage of actually doing the work. At least, that is how it may appear to someone who is not directly involved in this initiative. The reality is that we have already completed a significant amount of analytical work. As a result, we now have a full understanding of the process and clarity on potential ineffective operations. In other words, we have identified both where the problems lie in the process and what these problems are.
Before we can safely suggest any changes, we need to solve the problems we identified. Here, PRIZ ecosystem comes for help. PRIZ Platform offers multiple creative thinking tools that help us to solve problems.
As an example, the following two tools can be used for Root Cause Analysis
Or, in case we already have a target solution in mind, Perception Mapping will help us to identify potential blockers preventing us from achieving certain goals.
While working with various tools, we will generate a number of different ideas for a solution.
Suggest process changes
At this point, we have generated multiple ideas using various tools and engineering thinking approaches. Now, it’s time to create the final proposal for the changes.
This phase is primarily for documentation, but we also need to select the best ideas to move forward. The PRIZ Platform offers a tool called Round-Robin Ranking (RRR) that can help with this process.
Once we have identified the best ideas, it will be straightforward to document the final proposal for implementing the solution and process changes.
We are now ready to implement the changes into the process. Of course, the best tools for this are the ones listed above, such as Process Street. After the changes have been made, it’s important to test the new process and train employees on the revised process. Monitoring and controlling the process is also crucial to ensure that the improvements are sustained.
What did you think of our process improvement guide? Do you have any tips we may have left out? Let us know in the comments below!