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.

Popular posts from this blog

Where there is a (performance) gap there is a concern

I had a really good day yesterday working with a client's team.

The team has issues. Plenty of issues. Some are managerial issues, some are people issues and some are production issues.

When I first met the team they didn't know what to do with their issues, so I started by helping them to see more issues.

Issues everywhere, they didn't seem very impressed.

And then we captured the issues as 'concerns' into the tried and tested 'concern cause countermeasure' format and followed the process:

Concerns probed for root causes and root causes converted into countermeasures.
Soon they realised that some of their root causes dealt with numerous concerns and they gained momentum.

Yesterday we pulled another one of their processes apart and identified all of the gaps. The gaps became concerns and we fed them back into the process. Now they have a practical action plan (of countermeasures) to upgrade the process in question.

What do you do with your performance gaps? …

Continuous Improvement and the Five Legged Race

Many improvement projects need the buy in of several people before they can progress. Amongst these people there will be some that have a firm view of what needs to happen and are keen to make progress. Some of the people won't be sure and they will need more time. Other people might not be that interested and have other priorities they want to focus on.

None of this is wrong.

It is an observation of mine and one that I see repeat on a regular basis with the businesses that I come into contact with.

But, if we take the principle from the observation we have an interesting improvement strategy (one that I personally use when I get stuck with my client's improvement projects).

You might have worked out the approach from the title of this blog post, but it is analogous to a three-legged race (or four, five, nine...). If someone in the group moves in the wrong direction and / or at the wrong speed then the whole group falls over.


In the example I gave at the start it is no differe…

Do you have time to prepare (in order to become super productive)?

I had a funny conversation a few weeks ago with a team that was complaining about one of their colleagues spending 'ages' preparing their workstation within their factory. I meet a lot of people that spend too long preparing (and effectively procrastinating) so I was intrigued by their comment. It turns out that this individual didn't spend too long but rather his colleagues dived into their work without thinking through what the best way to work was...

The slower to start gentleman did in fact prepare his work area. He was also able to produce a far greater amount of work in the same time period because he had invested in a smarter way of working than his counterparts. The time spent preparing his working area was valuable and not overdone.

This example reminds us of the importance of the second S in 5S (set in order) and how workstation design is critical if we want to maximise the productivity of our teams. Whether this is a physical work area in a factory, the filing s…