What are the Actions Needed to Improve a Process

Process: Concept to Application Aspects

The word ‘process’ finds its etymological origin from Latin – meaning procedure or to proceed. A process is the journey travelled from input to output. For example, there is a process involved in converting milk to curd at home. There is a process involved in how it rains and snows. There is a process involved by which when the ignition button is pressed, the engine revs. By default, some processes are natural like raining and snowing or chemical reactions that convert milk to curd. And then there are man-made processes like how car runs or planes fly. Here, our focus is on planned processes i.e. the ones that we deliberately define in advance to achieve certain desired objectives.

The concept of process is vital for all entities including individuals and organisations for operational excellence. As individuals, knowingly or unknowingly we all apply the concept of process in one way or the other. However because our tasks are generally not complicated at the individual level, we do not feel the need to develop and follow robust processes. Another reason is that we also become efficient and effective at our routine tasks over time. However, things are different with groups or organisations. Multiple functions are executed simultaneously – HR, finance, sales, marketing, IT, etc. Each function has many points of interdependencies with other functions and even external entities. Multiple people are involved which makes monitoring and managing what they do a difficult task. So, organisations have to think from a macro perspective of managing their operations as one big coordinated unit. This makes defining processes a critical success factor for organisations in achieving operational excellence.

But defining processes is not the end of the story. No process definition is ever final. Processes are subject to change. Another way to say this is that there comes a time when the existing ways of working start becoming less effective and efficient or they may become completely redundant. For example, when banking services became digital the salaries began to be disbursed directly to bank accounts significantly affecting the payroll processes of organisations who switched to digital banking. The payroll process was still there but only its content changed.

Action Course for Process Improvement

Process Vision and Process Outcomes

The first step in process improvement is gaining an understanding of the role and significance of the process in question. Why is the process carried out? What is the role of the process in the organisational context? What outcomes are achieved from the process? Answering these fundamental questions helps think of a process from the needed perspective. For example, a salary process is carried out to disburse salaries. But it also comes with important parameters like timeliness, accuracy of amount calculations, compliance, availability of HR, inputs from other departments, etc. This focused and collective thinking is necessary to ensure that a process is treated as it should be. The purpose could be defining a process or improving it but first, you need to get on the ship.

As-Is Process Analysis

A good understanding of why a process exists and what outcomes are needed out of it provides clarity of how that process needs to be. However, moving from one state to another also requires an understanding of the present state of affairs. An important reason to do so is to optimise the extent of change. Thus, the next step is charting and defining the process in question in its existing state. The existing workflows, practices, and standards involved in the process are identified and defined. Resources requirements for process execution and completion are also mapped. The scope of roles, responsibilities, reporting, and supervision is established. The insights gained from as-is process analysis are vital to identify areas of deviations and improvement.

Process Gap Analysis

A process gap analysis is carried out to find the deviations in the existing ways of working against the process vision and process outcomes established earlier and develop measures for closing these gaps. The objective of a process gap analysis is to identify the gaps that exist between how something is done currently and how good these current procedures and standards are in achieving the process vision and process outcomes with the vision of finding solutions to eliminate or reduce these gaps. For example, if the originally intended salary disbursement date is the 28th but in practice, it reaches the first week of next month, then clearly there is a mismatch. Possible solutions for closing this gap are initiating the payroll process earlier, using process automation, streamlining procedures, etc.

Development of To-Be Processes (SOP Design)

Process improvement is achieved when new, improved ways of working are established. Thus, the next step is to develop the processes based on the requirements identified in the previous stages. One of the best tools known to craft processes is Standard Operating Procedure or SOP.

An SOP is a set of a planned order of identified tasks and activities required to complete a particular process or operation. In an SOP, every task or activity is defined in terms of who, what, where, when and how. It removes speculation and functions like an operational roadmap for process owners. SOPs make supervision, monitoring, and reporting easier.

With SOP development and implementation, it is easier to incorporate the identified process improvement measures into the new process definitions. SOP-based process definitions also provide the foundation for process automation and digitisation which further helps make processes more efficient and accurate.

Use of Process Automation

Once the right process definitions are available, the next unavoidable step for process improvement is process automation. Automation not only speeds up processes but also makes them more accurate and adept at handling more volume. The benefits derived from automation translate into many other advantages. For example, by automating order management, businesses can receive orders even during non-working hours. By having digital payments, checkout counters save a lot of time dealing with physical currencies.

Process automation is a direct attempt to achieve process improvement. However, this link between process automation and process improvement can fail if there are flaws in process design or processes are not aligned with functional and business objectives.

Ensure Process Compliance

An organisation can have the best processes in place but it would not be worthwhile if they are not followed assiduously. Policies and control measures are necessary to ensure that SOPs are followed religiously. Process automation surely helps in monitoring adherence to process standards and workflows. Supervision works well in small teams. Giving weightage to process expertise in PMS is another effective solution. Process compliance is vital to sustaining the success of process improvement.

Process Audits

A process audit may lead to nothing and yet they are a necessary element of process management. Process audits are carried out to detect deviations from intended ways of working. It is an effort to be sure that operations were executed (during the period under evaluation) as planned or as per the SOPs. Process audits assess whether the process improvements made earlier were followed and whether the intended results were produced. It can be argued that results would be already visible. The essence of a process audit is to analyse actual performance, find deviations (if any) and find the answers as well. A process audit is not one of those 11 AM team meetings; it entails a more planned and structured approach.

Competency Mapping and Training

Having the right skills and competencies is vital to the success of a process without which the execution is flawed. Often these skills and competencies are not aligned with the process requirements. These abilities should be mapped based on the actual process requirements rather than rooting them on any other frame of reference. Once the required skills and competencies are available, these should be made part of recruitment and training. Organisations need to bear in mind that processes on paper is one thing and their actual implementation is quite another.

Change Management and Project Planning

Implementing new or improved processes often comes with a slowdown in operations and a certain degree of resistance and reluctance. These hinder the efforts of process improvements. Proper change management planning with an action plan helps mitigate such risks. Necessary training and support help employees quickly get acquainted with the new workflows and automation tools. Executive leadership is also vital in introducing enterprise-wide changes. Process improvements may also necessitate changes in organisational design. A new job analysis of the affected positions in the organisation structure may be necessary. New positions may have to be created and some old ones merged. The financial budgeting for introducing all these efforts is necessary so that the project does not run out of steam mid-way. Internal rebranding and communications help keep miscommunications or misconceptions at bay.

To know more about our business process management consulting services or to speak to one of our business process consultants, please drop us a message and we will reach out to you.

FAQs

Process improvement refers to an effort aimed at enhancing the quality of a process. The quality of a process is determined by many factors. Some of these factors are:

  •         Whether or not the desired output/results is achieved
  •         Whether or not the process and each of its components are completed on time
  •         Whether or not the resource consumption is within budgets
  •         Whether or not the process aligns properly with other processes and entities
  •         Whether or not the process is carried out by the intended doers
  •         Whether or not the process moves on its intended sequence
  •         Whether or not all the intended tasks in the intended sequence were carried out
  •         If all the above parameters are consistently met

Process improvement means to bring an upliftment in any one or more of the above-mentioned quality parameters. For example, not having the required skills and competencies may lead to a situation where some part of a process is not carried out by its intended doers/assigned employees. There is always a cost involved in such situations which may include the intervention of superiors or colleagues. Providing the necessary training and support helps avoid such situations and makes processes more reliable.

Process outcomes affect business outcomes. Here are three examples highlighting the importance of process improvement:

  •         Think of a company that intends to disburse salaries by the 28th of every month but is never able to meet this timeline. By carrying out the necessary assessments and adjustments, the company can find out the reasons for this delay or find out the flaws in its payroll process design. This effort is a part of process improvement.
  • Have you ever experienced wrong product delivery when buying something online? One possible reason for such mistakes is loopholes in order fulfilment processes in fulfilment centres. Ensuring correct delivery requires correct information sharing, correct packaging, correct labelling, correct dispatching, and correct coordination in final delivery stations. Any mistake at any stage in this process leads to mistakes in final delivery.
  • Quality is another big reason to bring process improvement.  It is through processes that quality checks and measures are incorporated into the working systems. These checks could be manual or automated. What is more important is having proper definitions of these quality processes. If the checks and measures are not well-defined, the parameters based on which quality is checked might get overlooked.

Process improvement calls for detailed and comprehensive planning and implementation. The degree of planning involved here depends on the size and complexity of processes. If the input-output relationship is simple, it is easier to identify deviations and scope of improvement. Here is a list of nine important steps involved in process improvement:

  •         Re-analysis of Process Vision and Process Outcomes
  •         As-Is Process Analysis
  •         Process Gap Analysis
  •         Development of To-Be Processes
  •         Use of Process Automation
  •         Ensure Process Compliance
  •         Process Audits
  •         Competency Mapping and Training

·         Change Management and Project Planning

Author Bio

YRC-rupal

Rupal Agarwal

Chief Strategy Officer
Dr. Rupal’s “Everything is possible” attitude helps achieve the impossible. Dr. Rupal Agarwal has worked with 300+ companies from various sectors, since 2012, to custom-build SOPs, push their limits and improve performance efficiency. Rupal & her team have remarkable success stories of helping companies scale 10X with business process standardization.

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