As part of continuous improvement, process improvements can be achieved by examining the processes within your organization, identifying their weak points and seeking optimal ways of improving them. Because processes are never static (business direction changes, customers' needs change, regulations are introduced and new technology often triggers the need to alter how processes work), they will never be perfect and can always benefit from continuous improvement.
Let's start by defining what a process is: A series of actions that bring about a specific result.
For example, the series of actions (process) involved in applying for a job leads to securing employment (result).
When can you say you have a "good" process?
The notion of good or bad processes is mostly subjective, and whether a process is good or bad would depend on the context (purpose, project or industry) and circumstances that are peculiar to its operation.
This article discusses 6 warning signs your processes may be in need of attention. Look out for these signs and work towards eliminating them.
Warning Sign 1: Your Process Does Not Have An Identifiable Objective
Any process worth its salt must have an objective and deliver on that objective consistently.
The definition of a process discussed above implies that a process exists to fulfil a pre-determined objective. A process cannot just exist for the sake of it. Each process and its associated steps must have a clearly defined purpose that is understandable to everyone.
So, when examining a process, ask yourself, does this process have a purpose? Drill down further and ask, does this step have a purpose? Can that purpose be fulfilled by another step?
Warning Sign 2: Your Process Is Not Defined
It's possible to ask 2 people to define the same process and get 2 different versions of the story. This can happen due to a number of reasons:
1) There is no clearly defined process.
2) There is a defined process but no one understands it. The available process models raise more questions than answers
3) No one remembers how the process is supposed to work.
4) No one has access to the definition of the process or
5) The process is defined but there is no enforcement of its execution and as such, has become ad hoc over time.
The desirable situation would be for everyone involved in the process to have the same understanding of the process and execute it consistently. Every process should be defined with logical inputs and outputs to each step clearly identified. Processes take information or materials from the environment as inputs (this could be from another process, data source or an external step) and transform them into outputs. This transformation and all the activities leading up to it should be clearly defined and understood by all the relevant process participants to avoid confusion.
Process transparency cannot be achieved without a solid definition and visibility of the process. At every point, it should be easy to predict what step is being executed, how the step came to be (the activities leading up to that step) and what the logical output of each step will be.
In striving to accomplish completeness, a good process definition must go beyond addressing the sunny day or happy line scenario to defining means of handling exceptions.
Warning Sign 3: Your Process Is Inefficient
An efficient process is one where there are no unnecessary activities, there's minimal wastage and minimal resources are utilized in producing the desired result.
When examining processes, check for inefficiencies by asking these questions:
1. Does the process have any unnecessary sign-offs and approvals?
2. Does the process collect data the business does not need?
3. Are all the resources allocated to the process necessary?
4. Is there anything that can be done upstream to eliminate the process or any of its steps?
4. Are there any bottlenecks or sources of delay in the process?
5. Are there any repetitive steps that add no value?
Warning Sign 4: Your Process Definition is not end-to-end
Rob Davies defines an end-to-end process as, “A chain of process steps (or subprocesses) that starts as the result of a customer trigger and progresses until a successful outcome for the customer is achieved”.
For example, a process that allows patients to consult with a physician, receive diagnosis but does not consider how payments will be made or how prescribed drugs will be obtained cannot be considered end-to-end. End-to-end processes are sufficient in the sense that they take into consideration all the steps and sub-processes that need to be executed in creating the desired business or customer outcomes.
Warning Sign 5: Your Process is Complex
In reality, the complexity of a business is reflected in its business processes. If your process (and its definition via a business process model) is complex, there is an increased likelihood of recording errors in its execution. Improving business processes should always be done with the aim of simplifying processes and reducing complexity, where possible.
Warning Sign 6: Your Process is Not Controlled, Measured or Monitored
Processes should be continually monitored to ensure they deliver results consistently. Process Owners must be able to manage their processes by defining realistic KPIs and continuously ensuring that process definitions are aligned with business strategy, customer demands and technological changes.
Processes also need to be measured to understand how well they are performing and to collect data for business decision making.
While there's no definitive checklist through which a process can always be qualified as good, identifying the warning signs and eliminating activities that typically cause problems in execution will ensure that the business processes in your organization deliver the desired outcome as efficiently as possible every single time they are executed.
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