Quality Management Guide

Step 5: Process Improvement

Where to begin?

In most cases it isn’t practical or necessary to change everything about the way you work.

You can achieve an enormous amount through carefully targeted changes.

Process improvement works best when you:

  • perform a cost/benefit analysis of the impact of process changes
  • understand how to map and change processes
  • measure, track and refine the changes.

Process mapping

A ‘process map’ describes a process in terms of its key elements, and identifies the parties that are involved at each stage of the process. This is an extremely valuable tool for businesses – before you can change something you need to understand it.

Typically a process map will include:

  • who ‘owns’ the process – the person who is responsible for the successful operation of the process as a whole
  • where it starts and ends
  • what its inputs and outputs are
  • what activities are contained in the process and how they interact with each other.

Before you can map your process, you will need to identify:

  • Critical activities – these are the measurable activities that effect things like quality, cost, and timing.
  • Internal business controls – like policies, procedures and management review.
  • External business controls – such as customer specifications, legislation and industry regulations.
  • Resources – this includes people, equipment, skills and experience.

Next, you should list which measures are in place to monitor performance of the process. These might cover:

  • Effectiveness – such as error rate, accuracy, service levels or schedule adherence.
  • Efficiency – such as cost per transaction, time per activity and cost per activity.
  • Adaptability – such as responsiveness and changeover time.

Once you have done all of this, you should have a good understanding of a particular process and so be in a position to analyse it and pick out its deficiencies.

Process analysis

After you’ve mapped a process, process analysis will help you to identify the problems and flaws in it – the so-called ‘deficiencies’.

Each performance deficiency needs to be assessed in terms of:

  • how difficult it is to remove
  • the benefit of removing it – estimated in terms of time saved, money saved, opportunities created, etc.
  • the cost of removing it – estimated in terms of cost of materials, cost of manpower, cost of lost sales, cost of disruption, etc.
  • the disruption removing it will cause – both during its removal and after its removal.

At this point, you will have created a resource of information showing how your business works, what it needs to do to succeed and where changes need to be made. The final stage before implementing these changes is getting systems in place to monitor your process improvements.

Tracking progress

It’s vital that you regularly measure and evaluate any changes you make to your business to check they’re working. Ideally, your monitoring procedures should:

  • make someone working on the process responsible for collecting performance data
  • issue targets for each process improvement project
  • include how you are going to present the data collected so that it can be easily understood
  • involve regular review of the process while the improvements are being implemented
  • include a more detailed review of the process when it is stable.
This document is based on Crown Copyright © 2004
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