Everything You Need to Know About Continuous Process Improvement

September 13, 2022
Prashil Prakash
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Organizations today are highly data-driven and automation-oriented. The primary reason is that these activities allow for streamlining countless internal processes and achieving higher efficiencies.

Forrester begs to differ. According to one of its reports, about 73% of the data in an enterprise remains unutilized by its analysts. Data and insights are central to process improvement; inefficient processes that aren't backed by data can be crippling for the organization.

Hard to believe, right?

Multiple other aspects of improving organizational processes remain either ignored or underutilized. Without monitoring and documenting every business process with careful detail, it is impossible to identify bottlenecks and mobilize solutions in time. Losses will occur.

It is for this purpose that the method of continuous process improvement exists. Let’s understand what continuous process improvement is, how you can implement it, its strategies and best practices, and its benefits for the business.

What is Continuous Process Improvement?

Continuous process improvement, or CPI, is the constant monitoring of a process with a view to making gradual, periodic improvements to achieve higher efficiencies. It helps your organization achieve better quality outcomes and reduce the turnaround times of the process cycle.

It may sound similar to business process reengineering; however, they are entirely different concepts. While process reengineering deals with scrapping a process altogether to redesign it, CPI involves working with an existing process and changing it incrementally over time to achieve more favorable results.

Continuous process improvement is easy to set up with custom-designed software created using convenient no-code platforms, like Hubbler.

Are There Any Benefits of Continuous Process Improvement?

Yes!

The main goal of continuous process improvement is to identify the problematic aspects of a process and make changes to them to improve overall efficiency. Additionally, continuous process improvement also gives your business the following benefits:

  • Reduced costs
  • Quicker process times
  • Zero errors in case of automated processes and a significant reduction in errors in case of manual processes
  • Better relationship between all the stakeholders involved in a process
  • Improved employee productivity
  • Significant improvement in the quality of outcomes
  • Indirect increase in customer satisfaction. For example, by improving the process of customer query handling, you can reduce the response times of your customer care executives, making more customers happier.

What are the Steps Involved in Continuous Process Improvement?

Continuous process improvement is, as its name suggests, a continuous activity. It is a loop of monitoring, comparing, identifying, changing, launching, and monitoring again. It can be broadly divided into 4 major steps:

  1. Identify
  2. Plan
  3. Execute
  4. Review

Let’s break it down into details.

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Identify

It is essential to take a step back and take a closer look at the process you are trying to improve.

Study the prescribed procedure for executing the tasks and activities listed. Check if the process is experiencing any bottlenecks in the flow or delays on the part of any stakeholders involved.

Study each step your process goes through in detail by creating a process map that displays all the stops your process takes. This will help reveal the areas where inefficiencies lie.

Plan

Once the problems and bottlenecks have been identified, you need to plan the improvements you will make to increase process efficiency.

If the suggested changes you come up with aren’t significant, you can tweak the existing, ongoing workflows and continue monitoring the process performance.

However, if the changes are significant, you would first need to plan an alternative protocol to adopt while you take the problematic process offline and make changes to it.

The planning stage involves planning for the prototype process, as well as the methodology to scale it to the entire enterprise if it is successful.

Execute

The execution phase can be carried out in two ways:

For Smaller Changes

If your changes to the process are small, you can execute them immediately in the existing workflows without disrupting the entire process or the flow. You can continue monitoring while the changes take effect.

For Larger Changes

To execute the larger changes (for example, automating data entry), it is sensible to first design a prototype and test the improvement in a controlled process environment with limited stakeholders. If the process performs well here, you can launch it into the enterprise.

The execution phase also involves monitoring how well your process is performing against desired KPIs and benchmarks that you have set for it.

Review

Reviewing is the most important aspect of continuous process improvement. This step lets you see how your process is performing with the incremental improvements you have made.

You need to monitor whether these incremental changes are leading the process in the direction that you planned for the process.

If not, you need to realign your process with further changes (probably major ones). If your process is behaving as desired by not yet achieving the benchmark figures you had hoped for, there is scope for further incremental changes you can make in the next iteration.

Strategies for Continuous Process Improvement

There are 6 kinds of continuous process improvement strategies you can employ to improve the overall efficiency of your business. Each of these strategies draws from different methodologies and philosophies.

Depending on the work methods of your department and teams, you can pick any one of the following or mix and match a few to suit your requirement.

1. The PDCA Cycle

The PDCA Cycle is highly relevant in the world of contemporary business methodologies, as it is based on lean procedures. It focuses on reducing efforts, resources, time, and energy involved in a process to a minimum while also focusing on reducing waste.

It follows 4 distinct steps:

  1. Plan: Once you know the problems in a process, make a plan to solve them.
  2. Do: Adopt the changes on a smaller scale to test whether or not your changes work.
  3. Check: The applied change needs to have the desired outcome. Check your solutions.
  4. Act: Scale the process up to the organization before you move on to tackle the next problem.

2. The DMAIC Method

The DMAIC method is another highly relevant practice for modern businesses. It employs philosophies based on the Six Sigma methodologies of tackling business tasks.

The steps involved in the DMAIC method are:

  1. Define: In this step, you define the goals of a process to keep your improvements aligned
  2. Measure: Record how your process is performing currently
  3. Analyze: After identifying the problem, explore the root cause that is making the process problematic
  4. Improve: Now apply your planning, test the changes and execute your solution for this process
  5. Control: Monitor process performance to see if the improvement is favorable.

3. Five Focusing Steps

This concept has its roots in the Theory of Constraints. It begins by identifying the weakest point in a process and improving it until it isn’t a problem anymore. The five steps involved are:

  1. Identify the weakest link.
  2. Exploit the constraint: Now, you need to push the performance of the weakest link to its peak to see when it breaks, and you need augmentations.
  3. Subordinate: Now, reduce the performance of the rest of the process components to match the weakest link.
  4. Elevate the constraint: Augment your weakest link at its peak limit with additional resources to improve throughput.
  5. Iterate: Keep increasing the capacity of components by addressing the new weakest link first.

4. BPM Lifecycle

This method is a business process improvement technique. It consists of the following steps:

  1. Analyze the process for shortcomings
  2. Design or redesign the process
  3. Execute the new process in a controlled environment
  4. Monitor the performance of your improved process
  5. Optimize the performance before you release it at full scale

5. 5S Philosophy

The 5S philosophy also draws from lean business methodologies and focuses on the right organization of workflows to derive maximum efficiency.

  1. Sort your workflows and processes to identify excess steps
  2. Set the filtered-down processes and workflows in the most logical, efficient order
  3. Shine the processes for better performance
  4. Standardize the methodologies and practices for consistency across the organization
  5. Sustain these practices for best results

6. Kaizen Quality Control Circle

Kaizen is rooted in Japanese methods and encourages the involvement of employees in improving a process. The steps involved are as follows:

  1. Identify the problems with a process
  2. Define the KPIs you will use to measure their performance
  3. Brainstorm and create solutions for the problems
  4. Deploy a small-scale test for the solutions
  5. Scale the solutions up when they are successful

BPM and CPI

Business process management is a broader term that deals with a long-term effort to improve business processes.

On the other hand, continuous process improvement is an ongoing methodology that utilizes business process management techniques for process improvement.

While CPI addresses the processes for what they are, BPM software is focused more on improving the flow of the processes and workflows.

Customized Solutions for CPI

Each business has its own requirements for software solutions. The processes are unique, the workflows singular to each process. Things being so, it makes sense to create your own solutions from scratch, using no-code platforms like Hubbler.

No-code allows you to design your own CPI and BPM solutions without knowing how to code. You can create custom solutions that respond to your specific needs with Hubbler.

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