Skip to main content

Get real about your processes… if you really want to improve

Many times when I speak to a business for the first time I have to get past their mask. The mask I am referring to is the perfect business process maps that they cling to. To get into meaningful business improvement activities it is vital that you can get past the process maps that adorn your walls and quality management systems and get into the ‘warts and all’ reality of your business’ activities. This article looks at three areas that can help you jump start your improvement activities when you are mapping out what takes place in your business.


Eliminate the delays
One of the biggest offenders, in my experience, is that of lag. The inclusion of lag into your process maps will add a more realistic dimension of what is going on in your business. As I write this I recall one business that couldn’t figure out why they were late on pretty much all of their contracts; they had factored in all of the work required to deliver the projects, and balanced out the resources required to deliver the contracts, but always failed. Their reality was that the handovers between the departments of their business (and their associated ineffective decision making activities) were bloating how long their projects really took. Ensure lag (and lag related issues) feature in your process maps when you want to improve.

Lose the ‘hidden’ rework to raise productivity
Another missing feature of many of process maps I come across is that of rework. In our imperfect world rework always exists, it uses our resources in a usually less than effective way and stops us from doing what we want to be doing in the first place. Eradicating, or at least minimising, rework is an active goal for most businesses and getting real about it in your business is another key to finding decent improvements to tackle. This is the very same issue that was stopping another of my clients from getting their products delivered on time to their customer. Again, like the last example, this company thought they knew their numbers and were baffled that their performance didn’t meet their plan. In the middle of their process was a rework loop that got lost within the day to day busy-ness of production. By changing some of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) at the team level this became acutely visible, became both manageable and resolvable and their performance changed completely.

Eradicate confusion from your processes
The final missing item I would like to bring to your attention in this article is that of ambiguity. When process maps are drawn up by a group you often have a number of nodding heads in the room. The process may be captured correctly, but the ownership of the steps may be unclear. The precise operation of the process steps may be unclear or poorly executed. The documentation around a process step may be inadequate or unappreciated. Basically there is a distinct chance that we don’t fully understand what needs to happen for a process step to be executed perfectly. Or, putting it another way, we don’t know what ‘good looks like’ for our process steps. I have sat in many process review meetings where the following question has been raised: are we 100% confident that we understand everything we need to know about this process step, including who does what and a written instruction of the step?

The process maps that live in our formal business systems are great; they're what we should be doing and how we should measure our performance. When it comes to process improvement mapping, however, we shouldn’t only use our manuals. We need to capture all of the niggles and frustrations with our current processes so that we can do something about it. If we get real about our improvements we can manage our way to a higher level performance. Take the above three ideas (lag, rework and confusion) and take another look at your business processes to see what improvements you can identify today.




About the author
Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes.
Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Kamishibai Boards

Some tools are incredibly simple to use, and also deliver some amazing results. Kamishibai boards are a great example and are superb when you want some visual control over routine tasks. By the way Kamishibai is pronounced "come-e-she-bye" in case you were wondering!
As simple as you could want it, a Kamishibai board is a T-card system that has red cards glued to green
cards (so that each T-card has a red side and a green side). The red cards are for the incomplete tasks, where as the green cards symbolise that the work has been done. See the photo below of a board in use.
On the red side of the card you write the name of the task that needs to be completed, and if appropriate you can include details of how the task is to be completed. This is not expected to replace standard operating procedures, but can be a good opportunity for an aide memoire.
The boards can be organised for daily, weekly and even monthly cycles. They are great as part of a 5S implementation (the Susta…

Do You Put Enough Effort Into Changing How Your Business Works?

If you're reading this blog post it is a fair guess that you are looking to improve how your business works. So, what do you think about the question I have posed as the title of this article?
The reality is that if you could make a change happen with the same amount of effort that you current expend in your business changes would be happening left, right and centre. If you want to make a change stick in your business you need to increase your levels of effort temporarily. Without this increase in effort it is unlikely that the change you want will take place and sustain.
I recall when I worked as a Production Manager and the OTIF (On Time In Full) performance of our business was certainly not where it needed to be. For years the business had struggled to raise its level of performance; no additional effort had been expended. I planned out sixteen small improvement projects to address this and I got started with the changes. It was hard work at times and the work was on top of my…

Seeing the Improvement Wood for the Chaos Trees!

How are you feeling about your business the moment?

Are you feeling frustrated and irritated by the apparent lack of progress being made with your improvements?

If you answer ‘yes’ to this second question, don’t worry, you are not alone!

We all feel this way at times and the reason I am writing this article is that if you feel this way right now then I want to reassure you that there is a simple way to get out of this situation. I have been in this situation many times in both my operational life and as a consultant. It is normal and taking a deep breath and stepping back from the noise of the day-to-day is essential.

Let me take you through the three quick steps of Stopping, Assessing and Acting.


Take stock of where you are right now

In order for us to step back and try and see some of the ‘improvement wood’ as I refer to in the title of this article we need to have a simple question to focus our attention. A question I recommend that you ask is:

“Do our current processes suit the need…