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

Kaizen improvements need to be specific

Do you find that your Kaizen improvements don't always go to plan? If you do, then you're with the majority! Whilst there is great deal of 'trial and error' there is a simple approach that can help. Available from Amazon Being specific about critical parts of your improvement can uplift your results. So, how do you go about doing this? The most direct route is to be clear about which parts of your improvement are critical. From here you can explain, in detail, what you want for those items. This might take some practice as many of us have become lazy in this regard. We take it for granted that our team 'get us' and will know what they need to do. If you ever feel that something basic is missing from an improvement ask this question: "What does good look like?" The answer should put you back on track. About the author: Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and

Where to start with Kaizen, if you just aren't sure

Kaizen is a great word. It is a word that can unleash the potential of both a business and an individual. Kaizen means more than just continuous improvement. It is a word that is linked to: Confidence Growth Exploration Courage Many people I speak to, that are new to improvement projects, aren't sure if they are on the right path when it comes to embracing the spirit of Kaizen. If you are also one of these people then let me share with you a few thoughts that can help you feel at ease about starting and leading change. Start with your concerns A great place to start your improvement life is with anything that isn't right. Getting your concerns out into the open really is the first step for most of us. If you aren't happy with something, raise it. This isn't only a great place to start, but something that you shouldn't give up. Whenever a standard is not being met, or not even defined, get vocal and then do something about it. Start small The intention of Kaizen is

Stimulating Kaizen opportunities - the 'mechanical' way!

I often end up in conversations about how to stimulate Kaizen ideas and opportunities. If you have read my other posts, you will know that I split the improvement journey into two halves. For many people, the initial Kaizen focus is all around fixing things that are wrong / not working properly. Once you get past this point you need something else to focus and motivate you to generate improvement opportunities. The two halves of the Kaizen journey The discussion that I often end up in, is the one around the imagination quandary. People talk to me about not being creative, or not being inspired to come up with improvement ideas. Do you ever feel this way? It seems that there is a popular view that some people are creative and some aren't. Great Kaizen ideas are not just the product of 'creative' people. There are lots of ways that you can generate improvement ideas without having to sit on a mountain top cross legged waiting for inspiration. Finding a 'mechanical' w