Measure and Improve Your Process Improvement Work System

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

How Do You Measure and Improve Your Process Improvement Work System?

When we normally think about a process improvement work system, we think about front line job waste reduction, such as on an assembly line. Rarely do we think about the waste that might exist in management processes such as meetings, e-mail and texts, training, and projects. Unfortunately, the waste in these ‘higher level’ processes might be much more costly than those processes we use to create products or provide services on a daily basis. How do you measure and improve your process improvement work system?

Sure, we talk about the need to hold effective meetings and measure the effectiveness of our training. We strive to reduce e-mail and text waste, and make sure we complete each project by the set deadline. How often do we consistently measure and trend the cycle time and waste levels of these every day efforts? Are we accomplishing our meeting goals in the least amount of time possible? Are we providing the maximum amount of learning at the lowest cost? If you are like most organizations, the answer may be“I really don’t know.”

EXPLORE MORE: Process Improvement Strategies

What does a Best in Class Process Improvement Work System Look Like?

We human beings repeatedly execute the same personal processes each day, with little thought being given to optimizing their effectiveness. Think about how much time you spend each year as you get ready for work or prepare supper each night. Process effectiveness might not seem to matter here, unless you happen to say once in awhile “I don’t have time to do that.”

The best organizations, such as those that aggressively pursue the Malcolm Baldrige National Performance Excellence Award, recognize that each employee owns at least one key process in their organization. Each leader takes steps to ensure that each employee, including those in management, knows what steps to take to ensure that their processes perform at an optimum level.

Most, if not all, staff use data to make decisions and solve problems. Teams and individuals use a variety of tools to take the waste out of their work processes. Process owners track both process throughput and process waste on a consistent, daily basis to make sure that progress is made. All work team members are always on the lookout for better ways to meet the needs of each process’s customers.

DISCOVER MORE: How to Apply 5S Lean Tools

The Process of Process Improvement

Process Improvement Work System Weaknesses

Process improvement is a process in itself. Good process managers are able to identify process steps, process waste streams, and key process metrics. They regularly work with their internal or external customers to identify those key requirements that a given process should meet. They can demonstrate process improvement over time in a fact-based, visual way.

Think of the money that could be saved if each person in your company knew which processes they owned. How much value could be added if these people were given the tools and support to make sure that regular process improvement could occur? Would morale improve if meetings and training were more effective? Would a sense of ownership and pride grow over time if each manager set a personal example through personal process improvement?

Making the switch to a process improvement orientation is not hard. However, it does involve learning to think differently. More importantly, such a change involves admitting that we all do repetitive tasks as we perform our daily work. We should all be held accountable for the results that these processes produce with each cycle. Most importantly, we must make sure that we continue to make each key process better as the days go by.

LEARN MORE: Operational Excellence Barriers

If you are interested in the process management and improvement systems and tools that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com.

What Key Processes are in Your Process Improvement Work System?

Flow charting is a primary tool people use to define the value added and non-value added steps in a given process. Value stream maps build on the design of this quality tool. You may have used one, or both of these, tools at one time or another to define your processes. Have you also gone the extra mile to identify what the desired processes should look like? How often do you track the waste, or non-value added, steps that exist in each process? How often do you effectively find the root causes of that waste?

Too few organizations go beyond process map creation to define all of the key processes in their organization. Even fewer also define the customer requirements and measures for each process. The table shown is central to the process definition efforts of the best companies. Take the time as a leadership team to complete a similar table for your location. You might come across some process definition gaps. Also, you might gain some clarity about why you do what you do each day.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence criteria focus on two key process types – value creation and support. Value creation processes exist to build value into the product or service that you provide to your customers. Support processes help make sure that the value creation processes can do their job. We tend to focus on value creation processes because they are central to the supply chain itself. However, we shouldn’t ignore the support processes. If they contain waste or fail to meet their requirements, the value creation processes will eventually break down as well. Even if they don’t fail, they will cost much more to execute than they should.

How Can You Define Your Processes?

Process Definition MatrixThe process definition matrix shown is an example of one that is commonly found in a Baldrige application for an organization’s value creation processes. There are two key things to note about this example.

First, look at the types of process areas in the left column list. A lot of companies neglect some of these processes from a process management perspective. They just let them run their cycles each day. Little worry is given to potential process waste or process improvement possibilities that may exist.

More importantly, look at the columns that have been completed for each process area. For each of the six processes shown, key customer requirements have been defined. Process measures exist as well. This is where both the simplicity and power of process management exists. How many processes do you have in your organization?

Where Do You Measure Process Performance?

Imagine if you simply took the time to complete such a chart for your location (at most an hour or two of your leadership team’s time). How much clarity might you gain about why your people currently do what they do on the job each day? I would bet that you would find a gap or two. For example, you might discover a lack of defined internal or external customer requirements? Also, you might detect a lack of measures to gauge requirement compliance success.

By the way, don’t forget that you can create a similar chart for each of your support processes. How effective are your human resources, information technology, and maintenance processes? How many support processes do you have? Do you think you might find some waste and process insight in those areas?

EXPLORE MORE: Evaluating Root Cause Analysis Processes

Would You Like to Measure and Improve Your Process Improvement Work System?

Improving Your Process Improvement Work System

For over 40 years, I have helped set up and manage process improvement work systems in many different companies in a variety of business arenas. This experience has helped me design value added, simple ways to set up process effectiveness measurement systems. I know how to create balanced scorecards that better measure process performance. I have found best practice ways to really tell a company’s improvement story.

Most importantly, I have learned how to help each process owner better understand what makes their systems tick. Failing to define and eliminate process waste streams is the primary power restrictor for this power system. These tools help you both eliminate that barrier and move forward more rapidly towards higher levels of performance.

If you have interest in the process improvement work system tools that I offer, send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com. Better yet, work further with me to improve your process improvement work system through my virtual, interactive process definition and improvement workshop.

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Please email me your questions at kevin@greatsystems.com

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