What is a Process Improvement Plan?
While this is a very open-ended question, as processes vary greatly from one industry to another, it still remains quite simple. A process is little more than a collective of steps and decisions involved in the way a specific task or workload is completed.
Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.Tom Peters
Virtually everything we do in our personal and professional lives involves some kind of process – some far more than others. Bearing this in mind – let’s consider a “process improvement plan”.
Examples of General Processes
Processes vary by importance. Others are so mundane we don’t notice they take place, while some processes are so integral to the flow of business that if they were to cease, all production would grind to a halt.
Here are some examples of simple, general processes people deal with every day:
- Creating work orders
- Firing a weapon
- Repairing pipe fittings and valves
- Performing a system test
- Allocating a budget for a new project
- Conduction a drill
- Getting out of bed
- Closing out payroll
- Milling a part of a specific measurement
From the examples provided, it’s obvious that the priority of processes can vary greatly. Likewise, the complexity of processes can vary quite a bit. The process for milling apart could be a number of steps involving computers and software. The process of a firing a weapon or getting out of bed is far simpler by comparison.
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Who Owns Processes?
In a smaller organization, a process may be fully owned by a single individual. In fact, it’s not uncommon for startups to see a single individual wear many hats, working on and managing a number of processes from start to finish.
More commonly, processes (especially complex ones) are spread across departments in an organization resulting in everyone having a stake in one or more processes. Beyond those who work within the process, there is typically one person who is ultimately accountable for the flow and results of the process. This is usually an immediate supervisor overseeing the process from end to end.
What is Process Improvement?
A process improvement plan means to create a documented strategy for improving or making things better. This isn’t about reactive plans where the teams within an organization have a course of action for managing crises. It is a proactive and problem-solving approach that seeks to find bottlenecks or weak points within established processes, and find ways to improve them. This course of action moves teams into becoming fire preventers rather than firefighters.
The process improvement plan typically includes a number of items, answering questions such as:
- Which processes are selected for improvement and why
- How the process is evaluated for improvement
- What resources may be required to make improvements
- Who are the right team members for ideation and process improvement
- How are improvements deployed
- How can the improved process be institutionalized
- How is the new process audited and reviewed, and who is involved
- How are training and continuing education handled for the new process
How to Establish a Process Improvement Plan
There are a number of steps involved in creating a process improvement plan. Following these steps improves the adoption of the process, broadens decision-making, and enhances the likelihood of achieving the desired long-term results.
Step 1 – Select the process to be improved and identify the core objective of the improvement.
Step 2 – Create a team dedicated to making the improvement. Choose the right people for the core team with consideration for time, costs, materials, and reporting requirements.
Step 3 – Define your current process using a visual aid to track current flow. This allows you to see how each activity within the process takes place. You can also begin to identify starting and stopping points, as well as bottlenecks.
Step 4 – Collect data on the current process and align it with your workflow. Use the data to simplify the process and remove redundant or unnecessary activities. The data will also help you establish a baseline of comparison and can be used to measure against the objective.
Step 5 – Determine whether the process is stable. Using the data collected in the previous step, your team can better understand what is taking place in the process and what kind of variations occur.
Step 6 – Determine if the process is capable of comparing data collected against the process improvement objective. This will help you determine if the process is capable of helping you achieve the desired objective. This is typically where you uncover the major bottlenecks and problems with existing processes.
Step 7 – Pick out the primary issue in your process that would prevent you from meeting your objective
Step 8 – Develop a plan for implementing change based on the reasons for the process’s inability to meet the desired objective
Step 9 – Test the optimized process and begin collecting new data to compare against the target objective
Step 10 – Assess whether the changed process is stable, capable, and has actually been improved upon. This includes evaluating a wide range of operating costs – especially employee labor and time.
How to Make a Process Improvement Plan Stick
You might be surprised to know that a number of process improvement plans are dead on arrival. Despite ideation, testing, and data the plans don’t pan out. Companies spend millions on development, yet the results are disappointing.
If the process modeling and testing showed positive results, what happened?
The answer: People.
Processes don’t change themselves or deviate unless something breaks. Since processes can’t change on their own, that means people change. For a new process to stick, every person involved in that process along the way has to also change.
Here are some of the most common causes of breakdowns in a process improvement plan:
- Communication disconnects
- Wide gap between executive expectations and what teams can deliver
- Improvement plans are developed without input from the teams doing the work
- The new process doesn’t take into account the ripple effect for the rest of the operation and disrupts occur in other processes.
- Lack of consistency where leadership desires change and process improvement yet cuts budgets to move onto the next big thing
- Leadership rolls out new process improvement plans and expect immediate results
- Feedback loops and auditing are broken or nonexistent for processes, so nothing is actually measured.
If you want process improvement plans to stick, you need to focus more on the people than the process itself. This can be achieved with two approaches.
When you want people to change, or adopt a new way of tackling a process, then it’s best to show them what you want them to do. This is critical for process improvement. The more complex the process, the more difficult it is for employees to adapt.
And it only really makes sense at first to the people who wrote it in the process improvement plan.
Visualization will accelerate the understanding and alignment, as your teams can actually see what they are supposed to do and how their role fits into the larger picture within the organization. It can make them feel valued to understand how their work impacts the entire chain along a process.
Vision is a dominant sense for people and takes up over 50% of your brain’s resources as it processes more than 80% of new information received. From research on the Picture Superiority Effect, people only remember about 10% of something they hear after 3 days. If that information is accompanied by a visual, then people remember up to 55% more.
Co-creation is about involving the people in your organization in the development of new processes. Rather than having outside experts try to refine and optimize within a conference room, trust in the employees you have to let you know where the biggest problems arise.
Use their feedback to build new processes, and benefit from the ideas of the people who understand the work the best.
Since people tend to better support what they build, you’ll see adoption rates improve with a far larger investment in new processes.
Don’t Stop Once the Process Improvement Plan is Created
Once you’re rolling out your process improvement plan, the work doesn’t end. Take a position of constant improvement. Regular audit the new process and gather feedback from your teams. This will ensure that the process remains stable, and further improvements can be made to continue optimizing operations.