Process Improvement Goals

Keywords: #BusinessProcessImprovement, #Goals, #Bottlenecks, #Automation, #Time, #ProcessDiscovery #ProcessMining

Processes are a wonderful way to work. When properly designed, it creates cohesion between related tasks that when performed together, achieve a much grander goal than individual task. Putting it simply, processes are a connected sequence of steps, tasks or activities taken together to achieve a defined goal. In the context of business process, the end goal should ideally be associated to some form of perceived organisational benefits such as a financial transaction.

As you can imagine, a streamlined process gives any organization the competitive edge. Business process improvement initiatives are extremely popular and common among organisations that have reached a certain level of maturity.

When conducting business process improvement, it is imperative that the process improvement team aim for one or more desired outcomes. This set forth the tone and the flavor of the improvement activities. While relating to LEAN, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM), some of these goals are unique within the premises of process improvement. In this article, we describe nine (9) common goals for business process improvement.

Process Improvement Goals

1Better communicationImprove communication and awareness
2Improve efficiencyImprove speed, reduce waiting
3Streamline activitiesMore defined or simplified steps
4Improve resource managementBetter resource management
5Reduce costLess costly to run
6Better throughputMore successful outcomes and completions
7Reduce redundanciesReduce duplicates and redundancies
8Better complianceBetter conformance and compliance to regulations
9Improve qualityImprove quality of work output

1. Better Communication

Improving communication and understanding is crucial to any teams. Sometimes all it takes to resolve any differences is just alignment. Simply put, let’s get everyone on the same page. Process improvement and modelling workshops are extremely good exercises for this purpose.

In this form of process improvement, the team defines and formalizes the actual process and communicates the findings to the rest of the organization. Process artifacts such as a process model (e.g. BPMN) or automatically discovered process maps are extremely useful to aid in this communication. There are 2 common approaches: a) Modelling workshops conducted with stakeholders and b) Process maps/models discovered using Process Mining techniques. Both methods have their merit and are not mutually exclusive.

2. Improve Efficiency

Time-based process improvement is a common goal among improvement teams. While not as common, time-based improvement can work both ways (i.e. to reduce or lengthen the time of the processing, e.g. customer retention process). Automation may seem to be the way to go but not always the case. Remember that automating an inefficient process may amplify the inefficiency.

Wait time analysis is also a good way to tackle time-based improvements. From a pure data-based improvement methodology, wait time can be hard to harvest and may depend on interviews or observations.

Time-based improvements are best performed using proper measurement tools. After all, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Results of time-based improvements may be easy to perceive in some scenario. We do note however, there is sometimes a shifting bottleneck phenomenon, where choke points aggravate from another less serious process point after an improvement is done on one. We advocate the use of proper measuring tools and constantly measuring the impact of the improvement.

3. Streamline Activities

Activity streamlining include increasing or decreasing the number of activities to better meet the desired outcome. These changes can be the result of organizational, operational or policy changes. Insertion of new activities are not always easy. Special care has to be taken to ensure that the new rules do not yield undesired results. Sometimes, it is easier to redesign the process than to change an existing one.

You can also explore into the current process and remove redundant processes. One way is to look at activity utilization. Less utilized activities should be analyzed for omission if required. In comparison to other goals of process improvement, activity insertion may rarely be performed by the Process Improvement team but more towards the IT or the Business Enablement team. Process simplification or reduction, however, falls right into the arena of the process improvement team.

4. Improve Resource Management

Streamline resource management, including the use of manual and automated systems. Every resource is precious within an organization. The ability to reduce resource, or use better resource in a process will generally yield better results.

Some organizations jump straight into automation. For example, with the surge in popularity of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), traditional activities not automated by a workflow are now considered as candidates for RPA. This can be a double-edged sword. Similar to improving time efficiency, a poorly planned automation may result in the amplification of the inefficiency in a process.

5. Reduce Cost

Cost reduction is always attractive to an organisation. Quantification of cost incurred however can be challenging. One way is to tackle the number of resources and duration required to complete each process. Specialized analysis tools with specific cost-benefit analysis may take a deeper dive into quantifying the candidates for review.

Where appropriate, quantifying the cost specific to each activity will yield better results. However, this is not always the case as the cost required to perform each activity can fluctuate greatly between different conditional branches for the same activity.

6. Better Throughput

To increase the number of successful outcomes against unsuccessful outcomes (also increasing completion rate). Most processes are designed to have at least one successful outcome, and multiple unsuccessful outcome.

Take an university’s student enrollment program as an example. The university make wish to increase the number of successful applicants in a certain program. In a typical enrollment process however, there will be multiple exit points resulting in student not enrolled. For example, a) student not accepted into program, b) student did not accept offer, c) student did not submit document in time, d) student did not respond to offer in time, etc. The strategy to tackle these is to look at all the multiple exit points, measure their throughput and determine if the factor can be improved by making process or policy changes. Take d) student did not respond to offer in time for example. The university make choose to lengthen the acceptance duration AND send a second notification if the student did not respond within a stipulated time.

7. Reduce Redundancies

As organizations go through changes, it is inevitable that processes will change. Using the leave application process for example, it may traverse between multiple iterations or integration with different financial and HR systems as the organization adopts these changes. Again, this is likely to be performed by the IT team or the Business Enablement team. However, it is not uncommon for the Process Analyst to perform the first round of interviews, modelling or business analysis before determining the best option to take.

Sometimes, it is wise to not fix what is not broken. When change is inevitable, it is essential to plan for change management appropriately.

8. Better Compliance

Compliance audit is a very essential part of most industries, some more than others. Compliance ensures that the company continue to operate in good faith i.e. meeting all legal and regulatory obligations. Auditing is making sure the organization does what it says it does.

9. Improve Quality

Improving quality of work is one of the desired goals of a process. One would expect that the quality remains consistent throughout all instances of the process. However, this is often not the case. Take the service sector for example; the duration and quality of a service can be indirectly proportional to the rise in demand. e.g. restaurant. The chef will inevitably speed up the cooking process to meet the growing number of customers.

There is usually a threshold that can be measured to safeguard the quality of the process (more precisely, the output of the process). Improving quality, however, is not limited to the scenario of increasing demand. Take manufacturing for example, a higher quality output may result in a higher sales price thus conversely a higher sales margin.

Quality can be extremely hard to measure. If it is quantifiable, comparisons can be made relatively easily than a quality-based attribute.