Business Process Improvement: A Definitive Guide (With Tips)
Updated 20 September 2022
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As markets and the world change frequently, organisations often seek ways to continuously improve their processes. One common way they might do this is through a process called business process improvement. Learning about this concept can help you understand why a structured approach to optimising workflows can benefit an organisation.
In this article, we define business process improvement and share essential details about this concept, like its common purposes, the way it works and the kinds of methodologies companies might use.
What Is Business Process Improvement?
Business process improvement, or BPI, is an activity where businesses analyse their current workflows and processes to identify areas where they can become more efficient or productive. This involves a series of meetings, discussions and reviews to understand how teams and individuals work. Through this analysis, leadership teams can then determine ways they might change to have more effective business operations. BPI can also involve evaluating the tools that teams use and the skills people have to see where they might invest or develop more.
Related: Automation Of Processes (With Definition And Examples)
What Is Its Purpose?
The main purpose of BPI is to ensure the operations of an organisation are most effective. There are several other key reasons companies might try these ongoing efforts:
Cutting costs: BPI often results in lower costs for organisations as they might identify redundancies or inefficiencies. After their analysis, leaders can identify ways they might eliminate waste or improve productivity.
Streamlining workflows: BPI helps organisations design and develop workflows that can be clearer for teams to follow. Leaders might review different steps in the process, identify parts that could be more efficient and communicate to teams how they might work most effectively.
Improving product quality: BPI can also help organisations improve the quality of their products. During these process reviews, they might identify areas where they can perform better or learn more about vendor performance to improve their offerings to customers.
Improving productivity: BPI can also help companies improve their productivity by identifying ways they can minimise errors in their processes. They also might see where specific issues, like process bottlenecks, happen and identify how they can produce products quicker.
Related: How To Be Productive: A Complete Guide With Steps And Tips
How Does It Work?
There are several steps to ensuring BPI can work for your organisation:
1. Choose a process to focus on
As businesses often have many different workflows and processes, you can first select which one you hope to improve. You might see different departments identify the various processes they follow and choose between these. It can help to start with the most difficult or complex processes, identifying ones that might have issues or cause the most delays. Fixing these through BPI can have the biggest impact on improving operations at an organisation.
2. Analyse the problems with the process
When you focus on one process, you can identify more details about it that might have issues. For example, a sales team might identify that they have difficulty logging customer data because of system glitches or limitations. Learning the areas in the process that might cause delays, raise costs or increase waste helps you learn what you might do to fix them.
Related: 11 Data Analysis Tools (Including Tips For Choosing One)
3. Perform a root analysis
A root analysis is when you identify exactly what causes an issue. There are several ways people can do this, though it typically takes a detailed look at the problem and considers what else might affect the step in the process. For example, you might have consistently identified lateness with delivering the artwork for marketing materials. The root cause might be a lack of skills, a system limitation or missing resources that can help do this stage more efficiently.
4. Design a plan
Once you identify the problems and their causes, you can create a remediation plan. This can involve people or tools needed to perform duties within a process. For example, you might determine new features for a system you can include in an upcoming release that can help improve the user experience and improve a schedule. You might also create a development plan for employees if the root cause is a lack of knowledge or skills. Consider creating a timeline to help you identify by when you hope to improve this process.
5. Implement the plan
The implementation of the plan can involve acquiring new tools and holding training or other initiatives to help improve different components of the process. You might create a business process diagram for the current state and the future state of a process to show teams what changes they might expect. Change management is key here, so communicating with teams clearly and providing them with the necessary resources to perform their duties with little disruption can help create a smooth transition.
Related: What Is Training And Development? (With Benefits And Steps)
6. Evaluate the results
After some time with the new process, you could evaluate the results to see if you achieved your goals. For example, if you hoped to improve a process to release products to a market on a month-shorter timeline, you can see how your expectations matched the reality. You can also survey team members to see if they feel and understand the process improvement and its effects. As BPI is a continuous process, you might use the first workflow you improve as a start to improve related processes and subprocesses or explore different ones altogether.
There are several common methodologies for BPI:
Agile: Agile uses short timelines, or sprints, to complete different segments of a process. In BPI, you might perform the steps needed to improve a process on these timelines or divide parts like implementation and planning into smaller, achievable sprints.
Lean: Lean means performing tasks with the least amount of waste and the highest amount of efficiency. This means continuously evaluating your processes to ensure each team member can work to achieve their maximum capacity when performing their duties.
Six Sigma: Six Sigma is a tool that helps businesses identify defects and root causes of issues, providing a plan for remediation. It's a process analysis method commonly used in project management to help learn, improve and measure the success of BPI.
Theory of Constraints: The Theory of Constraints methodology is when leaders identify the biggest issues that affect their processes the most. Leaders can then identify how they might fix these issues to optimise performance and efficiency.
Benefits And Challenges For BPI
BPI has several key benefits for a business:
Improved customer satisfaction
Improved employee satisfaction
More innovative technology and processes
Cost and time savings
Better business knowledge
Although there are many benefits, there are still some challenges for BPI:
Resistance to change
Misalignment with business goals
Lack of communication
You can develop a remediation plan for these challenges by identifying them early in the BPI process. Consider a strong communication plan and ensure that your goals align with any process updates to ensure your optimisations can really help the company.
Related: Types Of Workplace Training: Definitions And Examples
BPI Tips And Best Practices
Here are some of the best practices when working with BPI:
Strong documentation can help you for several reasons. By recording new processes, employees can follow any changed steps easier. Consider creating documentation and visualisations to help employees understand the change. You can also document the steps you took throughout the BPI phases. This can provide you with a template to use for any future projects you hope to fix. It can also help you proactively address any issues you might find with future process improvement initiatives.
Choose a methodology
As there are several ways you might perform your BPI, choosing one methodology can help you stay consistent. For example, if you hope to use the agile methodology, you can reuse this for future change initiatives. Teams involved in the analysis, design and implementation of process improvement can feel more comfortable when the structure is more consistent.
Related: Agile Vs. Scrum: What Is The Difference? (With FAQs)
Collaboration is key in BPI, so consider communicating often and openly. This can be important in the early stages, as different employees might have unique perspectives on what they think could help improve processes. Consider brainstorming sessions with several different people to generate creative ideas. Collaboration is also important after implementation, as you want to get feedback from teams on how successful the improvements are. Consider follow-up meetings with teams to discuss the changes or new processes and answer any questions they may have.
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