The Process Improvement Work Model

– a nonexistent virtuous cycle –

 

I’m bewildered… I’ve been through several Lean Six Sigma-related training courses, read numerous process improvement best practice articles, posts, and books, and I have been practicing Lean Six Sigma in the service sectors since 2010. Throughout all of this, there is one concept that is never discussed or taught and I feel that it will change your approach to process improvement. Practitioners talk about how to improve processes but often fail to identify the types of processes to improve and the importance of standardization. In thinking about this, I developed the Process Improvement Work Model, a non-existent virtuous cycle.

In my experience, processes can be grouped into three categories. These are standard processes, ADHOC processes, and new processes (more on these later in the article). Your objective should include improvements to each of these process categories and to eliminate non-value-add activities, waste, and when appropriate, entire processes.

Process Improvement Work Model Overview

The Process Improvement Work Model illustrates four (4) key points. The purpose of the Process Improvement Work Model is to provide a perspective as to where process improvements fit in the context of process and continuous improvement. It also allows you to see where Standard Processes, ADHOC Processes, and New Processes fit within the cycle. The Process Improvement Work Model is particularly effective and adaptable for the service sectors which is still young to all-things Lean Six Sigma, which might explain why this is a new(er) concept.

 

Process Stabilization

Stabilization can easily be intermixed with Standardization. The purpose of Process Stabilization is to enable the process to be predicable, documented, understood, measured, etc. preparatory to it being improved. This creates the baseline for improvements. A stable process is a more mature example of a standard process. Standardization has more to do with the process being followed with newly implemented improvements being controlled.

Process Improvements

The purpose of Process Improvements is to, well, improve the process. My illustration outlines the DMAIC framework but you could use any other improvement methodology such as PDCA, ITIL’s 7 Steps of Continual Service Improvement, etc. It’s also important to note that this step may incorporate the next two phases of Process Standardization and Documentation.

Process Standardization

Process Standardization is the efforts you take to make your newly improved/changed process into THE standard which the organization follows. During this phase you will work to control and measure the new process. It also begins to set the baseline for future improvements and process stabilization.

Process Documentation

Process Documentation appropriately follows Process Standardization because having proper documentation and records will further cement the process as the standard to follow. It is also a great tool for (re)training existing and new employees as well as having on hand for an audit should you ever have to deal with that. It can be argued that documentation is necessary before process standardization. In my experience, much of your documentation can be developed during the improvement phase and will help train employees on the new standard. On that note, documentation may need to be updated after the process has been standardized and as it stabilizes.

Process documentation may take many forms including Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Job Aids, process maps, and even technical requirements. This documentation should be stored in a standard repository such as a Knowledge Base. Process documentation should be managed by the respective business functions or process owners. You can then revisit the repository for Kaizen events and improvement brainstorming!

Types of Processes

Now that you understand the Process Improvement Work Model, it is important to keep in mind that there are three (3) different types of processes. These include:

  1. Standard Processes
  2. ADHOC Processes
  3. New Processes

Processes should add value

Processes should add value to an organization and the customer(s). If they don’t, then you should either eliminate them or work to change the process such that it adds value (read my article The 8 Deadly Process Wastes in Services). Standard processes are easy(er) to improve because they are, I’ll repeat, standard. ADHOC processes are the type of processes that occur infrequently or there is no standard process associated with it. You should work to identify these and determine if they can become standard processes or generally eliminated. New processes can either be standardized-documented-stabilized first, then later improved, or if you have the right capacity, improved (or optimized) first before introducing the process to the work front.

Wrap-up

I hope that the Process Improvement Work Model helps your organization’s improvement efforts. For me, it’s added better perspective on the different types of processes and how to approach process improvements on a continual basis. It has also helped me understand the importance of creating standard and stable processes to improve and the purpose that standardization and documentation play in the overall virtuous cycle.

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Chad Higgins

Chad Higgins

Contributing Author

With 12 years of diverse project management experience, Chad brings a unique perspective to PMforToday.com. Whether it was at the start of his career as an ice cream store manager or more recently as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ITIL leader in the telecommunications arena, Chad has always zeroed in on the kinds of changes that make a business function more effectively. Chad's formal background in process improvement complements his seasoned project repertoire. He's never found a team or process that couldn't improve in some area, and Chad is a firm believer that a healthy company culture is fundamental to any process improvement initiative.

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