Process Orientation and the Idea of Continuous Improvement

The term continuous improvement is grounded on the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Sometimes the term ‘Kaizen continuous improvement’ is also used to connote the same essence as that of continuous improvement. The essence is achieving gradual improvements via routine, incremental changes in our habits, practises, and working systems. The element of continuity signifies the importance of what we do every day and how we do it in our efforts to bring improvements to our working styles and systems in the long run. Without improvements, our working systems and processes begin to lose relevance at some point because of changes in the environment. The same holds for organisations. What is also true is that it is unlikely to develop the best processes and systems in one shot which necessitates learning and implementing the lessons in small ways on a perpetual basis.

This blog attempts to show the correlation between process orientation and the idea of continuous improvement.

More Confidence and Sense of Ownership

Some tasks may seem to be difficult or maybe they truly are. People tend to avoid or delay doing such activities. It is common in organisations to find the passing of responsibilities creating a lack of task or process ownership. The burden of such subtle practices is often passed on to junior employees and interns. If their tenure is long enough, they carry forward the same culture. There may be exceptions to this but that is something organisations must not leave to chance. Such a lack of confidence and ownership slows down processes and decision-making, especially in bigger organisations where the degree of functional and process dependencies is high. It also does not augur well for teams which eventually begin to affect the organisational work culture.

The motivator for such behaviour is not always the difficulties or complexities involved in tasks. Sometimes the reason is also not having a defined and proven way of working. More often that is the only reason. As experienced business process consultants, we often get to see this correlation between poor operations planning and deteriorating work cultures in organisations.

The answer to this is to become process-oriented and the onus of doing it lies with organisations because it is their processes and work culture which is at stake. Having well-defined operational roadmaps provides a comprehensive view of processes with all the major operational aspects covered. Knowing the road ahead gives genuine confidence. It helps embrace ownership of tasks and responsibilities. This confidence and sense of ownership is crucial for building a culture of continuous improvement.

Not being process-oriented does the contrary by creating scope of doubt and apprehension which later become a part of habit and practice.

Consistency in Output

The reasons for the lack of consistency in work and output are many in a professional setup. Work culture is one of them which is covered in the previous point. There are personal factors as well like habits, motivation, determination, vision, etc. We will not touch upon these personal factors. Our emphasis here is on work planning. More precisely, we are referring to operations planning in organisations.

Employees, teams, or organisations may fail to maintain consistency in their work and output in a vague work environment. In a poorly defined operations framework, the sense of clarity and comprehension about workflows and operational standards stands compromised. Employees remain unsure about the right procedures and standards. The informational gaps are filled by assumptions and independent judgements that may not necessarily align with the process or business requirements. There is a greater need for supervision and monitoring slowing down the speed and most often, hampering the quality of operations. In this way, organisations cannot maintain consistency of output because there is no consistency in workflows. It is in vain to even think about continuous improvement with consistency missing from actions and results.

The remedy in operations management to attain consistency in performance and output is developing processes and ensuring compliance with process-based execution. Process development is a planned and systematic effort to establish the best way to carry out a task or an operation towards achieving certain objectives. Process standardisation and compliance are equally important because if the same process is done differently at a different place or time, the output may get compromised. The result of such compromises not only affects process output but can extend to adversely affect customers and value chain partners.

Lower Chances of Deviations and Blunders

On countless occasions, we all have experienced deviating from our paths while carrying out our tasks. Most often, the reasons for such deviations include a lack of focus, intrusion of urgent tasks, giving way to comfort and unproductive habits, etc. Sometimes the reason could be even forgetting. Barring a few exceptions, there is no solid reason to justify deviations in work. In organisations, these deviations are counter-productive. It increases the chances of mistakes or even blunders that can prove to be costly. While the option of putting the blame is always there that is not very becoming of a responsible organisation. Again, organisations must develop and implement such mechanisms in place so that the chances of mistakes and deviations are altogether eliminated, at least in terms of planning. Being process-oriented helps organisations achieve this goal.

Having a process or operational roadmap ensures that only what is required to be done is done and nothing else is done. This approach helps prevent deviation from the required course of action paving the way for continuous improvement. For example, a customer support executive will know how to respond to different kinds of grievances if proper process SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) are in place. With automation, it becomes possible to even track responses and the status of resolution and achieve continual service improvement.

Process planning also gives an opportunity to identify vulnerable areas for mistakes and deviations. While brainstorming and defining processes, various contingencies are taken into consideration. It helps make processes more agile and robust enabling them to handle a wide range of situations. Without business process management, organisations are deprived of these benefits and instead, end up giving rise to working systems that are vulnerable to deviations, mistakes, and blunders. Working systems marred with such flaws cannot walk on the road of continuous improvement.

Adaptability and Process Improvement

Environmental changes do not allow patterns of working to remain the same. From time to time, changes in the internal and external environment call for small and big adjustments in working approaches. Improvement can also come without any such environmental change. For example, adopting lean process improvement can be a proactive step towards eliminating redundancies or non-value-yielding assets and activities.

The challenge is achieving improvements in work is possible only when the scope for the same is visible and it can be measured. This cannot happen in unplanned and undefined working systems. Also, people or organisations get so accustomed to their existing practices or even processes that the scope of improvement may be ignored or that change may begin to look risky even when it can bring adaptability and process improvement. This again is a fallout of poor operations planning where organisations do not have enough confidence to alter what is working for them even at the cost of their processes losing relevance.

Yes, organisations should move beyond relying on undefined ways of working and develop and implement processes (SOPs). However, process development is not the endgame here. Process orientation is not just about having processes; it also leads to process improvement.

Processes give an opportunity to measure, compare, and identify the scope of improvements. Also, people and organisations learn from their experience with processes to derive many practical insights not found in any textbook but relevant only to the organisation in question. Such observations, analyses, and improvisations are possible only in a well-defined working environment. Making process improvisations is also easier when sound SOPs are in place. Because SOPs go to great lengths in defining operations, making even minor changes in them is easy. Adaptability and enhancement are inherent to the idea of continuous improvement.

Better Service Quality and Experience to Beneficiaries

The quality of products and services delivered to customers/clients or beneficiaries is dependent on the quality of operations maintained by organisations involved in value chains. We are including ‘beneficiaries’ because the significance of process orientation also applies to organisations in the public sector. Even one weak link in the chain can affect the quality of the final value. This is reflected in many diverse forms. For example, sometimes eCommerce customers do not get SMS notifications about the delivery of their orders. This may be caused by a technical glitch or network issue but it should not be taken lightly. The question then arises is why this loophole even exists or why is still there a reliance on technology that cannot give consistent performance. The vendors or service providers also come under the purview of this assessment. Whatever the reason, what it shows are weaknesses in operations planning and implementation. This does not align with the principles of continuous quality improvement that seeks to remove weaknesses in operations frameworks over time.

Process orientation goes a long way in leading organisations to detect flaws in their operations so that they can be removed and better value and experience can be delivered to customers, clients, and beneficiaries. Using the example used above, the mentioned flaw or deviation should have been detected, reported, and addressed instead of letting it linger. A good application of the principles of business process management would have created the element of measuring performance whether a task is done manually or with automation. Detecting every small and big deviation becomes a possibility in a defined working environment. These gradual efforts and improvisations taken over time are the hallmarks of continuous improvement.


The lack of confidence and ownership of tasks and processes slows down decision-making and operations in organisations. Not having defined and proven ways of working is a major reason for this. In a poorly defined operations framework, the sense of clarity and comprehension about processes and operational standards also stands compromised. Furthermore, it increases the chances of operational mistakes or even blunders that can prove to be costly. Also, environmental changes demand processes to be adaptable. Making process improvisations is possible only when the scope for detecting improvements is available in measurable ways. This cannot happen in an unplanned and undefined working system. All these weaknesses in operations planning eventually hit customers, clients, and beneficiaries for whom organisations are trying to create and deliver values in the form of products and services. The adverse outcomes that emerge from not being process-oriented do not align with the spirit of continuous improvement. The ideal approach here is to adopt process orientation by developing and implementing SOPs for every process and operation accompanied by process documentation and process standardisation.

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Why is improvement necessary? Adding the element of continuity to the efforts for improvement highlights that you are striving to get better and better at what you do. Now extrapolate this concept at the level of an organisation.

Organisations are more about systems and processes. That is how they exist, operate, and strive for growth. Without improvements, these systems and processes will begin to lose relevance at one point. However, with continuity in the efforts for improvement, the working systems will not only stay relevant but also become sharper and more efficient and effective in small or big ways.

Another strong reason for choosing CI is the best working systems cannot be created in the first shot. So, you begin with your best efforts and with time, your CI measure will help you to strengthen your systems.

Adding CI to a work culture means there is a global emphasis on incorporating the essence of CI in thought leadership, team management, job descriptions, PMS, SOPs, etc.

Although there is no such thing called a continuous improvement process, a work culture that promotes continuous improvement exhibits certain typical traits. In such organisations, there is an environment of learning. Employees are not discouraged from trying out new ways of working while lending them support and guidance. Feedback and suggestions from all are valued and put through consideration. Some organisations provide support to employees to go for higher studies and come back. Superior-subordinate frictions are rare. HR policies promote work-life balance. Recognitions are more frequent. Open communication makes employees more confident to express opinions and even concerns more freely. There is an emphasis on data-based decision-making. Operations are guided by SOPs. If any big change is impending, proper change management efforts are put into place so that employees can embrace it with preparations at both personal and professional levels.

Developing and fostering a CI work culture is a long-term and ongoing activity. When the required resources are not available internally, many organisations also go for external assistance from continuous improvement consulting firms.

There may be no straightforward, universal answer to this question but here are some of the important landmark KPIs in the process of designing and implementing SOPs.

1. Define the process prerogatives, process objectives, desired process outcomes
2. As-is process analysis – mapping of the existing processes and practises
3. Process gap analysis
4. Development of the new SOPs
5. Validation (Adjustments and improvisations during pilot/trial runs)
6. Identifying IT/software solutions
7. SOP-IT integration
8. Software customisation and installation
9. SOP Training
10. Mechanism for improvisation and adjustments

Author Bio


Nikhil Agarwal

Chief Growth Officer
Nikhil is a calm and composed individual who has a master’s degree in international business and finance from the United Kingdom. Nikhil Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs and achieve operational excellence. Nikhil & his team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.

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