How To Improve a Process Template
Documenting a process doesn't mean it'll stay the same forever. Learn how we go about improving the processes we have to get better results and more efficient procedures.
How To Improve a Process Template
Documenting a process doesn't mean it'll stay the same forever. Learn how we go about improving the processes we have to get better results and more efficient procedures.
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Why We Continuously Improve Our Processes
At our company, a steadfast dedication to continuous improvement runs deep within our business. Enhancing our processes isn't just a task; it's a strategic maneuver to elevate quality, efficiency, and overall excellence. Well-designed and efficient processes act as the blueprints for optimizing our talent and resources.
The journey to refining our processes involves structured initiatives that demand planning, meticulous analysis, a touch of creativity, and ample perseverance. It's about honing the details to achieve more consistent results, minimizing errors, and simplifying workflows, not orchestrating a radical overhaul.
These improvements aren't isolated endeavors; they're interconnected to strengthen our organization. The impact is a steady and meaningful enhancement in how we operate as a company.
Core Process Improvement Principles
When thinking about continuous improvement and the future of our company, there are a few fundamental principles that we stand by. These principles guide us toward making decisions that are in the best interest of our team, customers and the future of our business. Here are the process improvement principles we follow:
We Integrate Technology Solutions:
We explore innovative technology solutions to streamline and automate processes, increasing efficiency and accuracy. This includes leveraging advanced software, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to identify patterns and opportunities for improvement.
We Support Cross-Functional Collaboration:
We foster collaboration across departments, breaking down silos to gain diverse perspectives. Cross-functional teams bring a wealth of knowledge and insights, enriching the analysis and ideation phases of improvement initiatives.
We Believe in Continuous Learning and Training:
We recognize that industries and technologies evolve, and we emphasize continuous learning for our teams. Regular training sessions and knowledge-sharing forums ensure that employees stay updated on the latest tools, methodologies, and best practices in our industry.
We Value and Honor Feedback:
We establish structured feedback loops involving employees at various levels. Regular check-ins and surveys provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of our systems and processes, allowing us to make iterative adjustments and address emerging challenges promptly.
We’re Committed to Sustainability:
Our commitment to improvement extends to environmental sustainability. As we optimize processes, we explore ways to reduce our environmental footprint, incorporating eco-friendly practices where feasible.
We Encourage Innovation:
We encourage employees to contribute to the improvement process by fostering a culture of innovation. Recognizing and rewarding creative solutions from the masses ensures that improvement ideas are not confined to a specific team but can emerge from any corner of our organization.
We’re Flexible and Fast:
We act on ideas quickly and are flexible and adaptive in our approach to process improvement. We value quick response times to changing business needs and empower teams to make data-driven decisions on the fly.
We Know Our Industry Well:
We regularly benchmark our processes against industry standards and best practices. This external perspective helps us identify areas for improvement that might not be immediately apparent within the organization.
Step-by-step Guide to Improving Processes
Identifying Processes to Improve
The first step is to identify processes that could benefit the most from focused improvement efforts. When considering which processes to tackle, we typically look at areas that have the biggest impact on core company objectives or customer experience.
Some questions to ask are:
- Which processes directly affect customer satisfaction or delivery of our products/services?
- Which processes have the highest costs or use significant resources like staff time?
- Which processes have variable output or quality issues?
- Which processes are the most complex or frustrating for employees?
- Which processes involve various systems and/or multiple departments?
There are a variety of tools and analysis methods our team uses to pinpoint processes primed for improvement initiatives. These include process mapping, root cause analysis, waste identification, data analysis, and most importantly, getting input from employees and customers.
Lastly, direction from leadership can help us tie processes to new business objectives and prioritize efforts based on criteria like overall impact, risk, cost, time invested, and feasibility to change.
In addition to common indicators that a process is in need of some TLC, we should review processes we own quarterly or bi-annually at a minimum to ensure they’re working optimally.
Prioritizing Process Improvement
As we evaluate potential improvement initiatives, we prioritize based on clearly defined criteria:
Risk Level - What risks do we face by not improving this process? Could there be rising costs, compliance issues, product/service deficiencies, or other failures? We assess the urgency to upgrade unstable, risky processes.
Customer Benefit - How will the process improvement impact customer satisfaction, product/service quality, or end-user experience? We aim to prioritize processes that directly influence customer-facing outcomes.
Employee Benefit - Will the process changes reduce frustrations, wasted effort, or challenges for our staff? Will the process change improve collaboration, culture, or quality of work? We value improving processes that make jobs easier and more rewarding.
Business Goals - Does the process directly impact key performance indicators tied to organizational goals? Aligning to top-priority goals brings strategic value beyond localized process issues.
Cost to Improve - What financial, staffing, and operational resources are needed to redesign, test, and implement process changes? We determine projected budgets and capacity for process improvement projects.
Time Investment - How long will a complete improvement initiative cycle take considering discover, design, pilot, scale up and sustain phases? We align expectations on effort and stages.
Feasibility - Can the process truly be improved given change management needs, technology constraints, training requirements, etc.? We determine realistic viability for projects before investing further.
We score initiatives on each criterion to promote alignment on processes selected and the sequence of tackling opportunities. This rubric limits debate on competing priorities so we can dial in resources and focus.
Building and Running Process Improvement Projects
We employ project management disciplines to maintain coordination and timely outcomes when executing process improvement initiatives. Key steps include:
- Chartering - Document scope, objectives, roles, stakeholders, risks in a strategic plan and get leadership buy-in and sign-off.
- Planning - Detail project timeline stages, tasks, deliverables, and resourcing needs in a project plan to align activities to company goals.
- Scheduling - Coordinate tasks with realistic due dates that align with the projects overall expected delivery date.
- Tracking - Monitor status of deliverables, milestone progression, budget usage, risks/issues and plan to be able to speak to these areas at a moments notice
- Managing - Conduct regular project oversight reviews with the team, address barriers, and re-calibrate plans if needed through standing project meetings or async updates
Standard project building blocks provide visibility for leadership on resource demands, progress measurement, and decision arbitrage when running cross-functional process improvement efforts.
Measuring Process Improvement Success
When embarking on process improvement initiatives, we define upfront what success looks like beyond typical efficiency gains. By setting measurable goals across key areas directly valued by customers and employees, we can quantify the positive impacts of our efforts.
We assess customer satisfaction through metrics like net promoter scores (NPS), feedback surveys, online reviews, and repeat purchase rates. Comparing scores from before and after process changes shows if customers perceive and appreciate improvements. We also analyze customer effort - ease of doing business, interactions to resolution, number of handoffs, and call transfers.
For employee measures, we evaluate satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Surveying staff on pain points, frustrations, and workload before and after process upgrades captures the internal customer voice.
Alongside customer and employee perspectives, we track more traditional process improvement metrics:
- Processing Times: Cycle, lead and queue times - i.e. how long something takes in each phase of the process. Our goal is to become faster and more responsive.
- Error Rates: Percentage of error-free output, quality scores, rework, and corrections needed. Our goal is to increase accuracy and consistency.
- Costs: Total cost to complete process, cost per transaction/output unit, overhead, time spent costs, and inputs consumed. Our goal is to contain or reduce operational costs.
Comparing metrics from before and after an initiative quantifies if we met targets across satisfaction, quality, speed, and cost dimensions. Our post-improvement reviews evaluate if projects delivered measurable gains aligned with business goals through improving experiences for customers and employees.
Selecting the Process Improvement Team
The first step in building an effective process improvement team is to identify the right internal stakeholders who are invested in enhancing the process under review.
- Start by speaking with department stakeholders to determine which job functions directly touch the workflow you aim to optimize.
- Then, select a mix of tenured employees and recent hires from relevant roles like frontline staff, process managers, and cross-functional partners. This provides the historical context, hands-on insights, and diverse perspectives needed to thoroughly assess the workflow. Specifically, consider individuals who demonstrate curiosity about root causes over quick fixes while bringing collaborative energy to the team.
- Finally, assign each of the members of the process improvement team a unique role within the project.
- Once the team is assembled, clearly communicate expectations upfront about their responsibilities, including attending regular meetings to analyze the process, brainstorm ideas, and develop solutions.
- Send calendar invitations to set formal meeting cadences and use this initial communication to align on goals for the improvement initiative. Ensure they understand the time commitment required while emphasizing how their input is essential to designing workflow optimizations.
To maintain engagement, provide progress reports to senior leadership and celebrate wins, no matter how small. Installing this well-rounded, engaged set of internal stakeholders places your improvement initiative on solid footing.
Using DMAIC for Simple Process Improvement
We follow the DMAIC methodology as a structured approach to process improvement projects.
DMAIC stands for:
Define - Clearly define the process that will be improved and the problems or opportunities to address. Determine the scope of the project and map out the process flow. Define metrics that will gauge improvement.
Measure - Collect data on the current process and establish baselines. Quantify defects, cycle times, costs, and other metrics that impact objectives. Assess capabilities and pain points of current process.
Analyze - Dig into root causes of defects, variations, and bottlenecks in the process flow. Identify factors that significantly influence process performance or results. Document issues. Look for ways the process can be simplified or enhanced.
Improve - Use analysis findings to design an improved process that resolves documented issues. Consider incremental changes as well new ways of working. Define implementation steps clearly. Develop procedures, training and forms to support the future process.
Control (& Celebrate!) - Roll out the new process while reducing risks. Provide training reinforcement to sustain changes. Audit process adherence and results. Monitor key metrics. Address issues quickly. Consider further modifications over time to optimize the process.
An important part of the Control phase is to celebrate the team members who contributed to the process improvement effort. Those directly involved in the process improvement project deserve recognition for their work in envisioning, planning, testing, and implementing the new process. Employees participating in rollout training and adjusting to changes in their daily work should also be acknowledged publicly. Wins related to improved quality, costs, accuracy, cycle times or productivity resulting from the process enhancement should be shared across the whole company.
Successfully completing a process improvement initiative takes collaboration and support from many people. Recognizing their contributions, either personally or through team celebrations, brings positive closure to projects. This helps sustain engagement for making future processes better as part of our culture of continuous improvement.
Using DMAIC to structure our process improvement initiatives keeps projects focused on measurable enhancements. It is a surefire, data-driven way to identify and implement impactful process changes.
Root Cause Analysis
Properly diagnosing the underlying reasons why processes underperform or generate defects is crucial to targeting impactful and sustainable improvements. We dedicate focused techniques within our methodology to get beyond symptoms of issues and pinpoint their root causes instead.
Common Causes of Process Problems
Review prevalent reasons processes fail to meet goals like:
- Inconsistent execution
- Misalignment to customer needs
- Task redundancy
- Unclear decision rights
- Multiple handoffs
- Information gaps or delays
Asking "Why" with the 5 Whys Technique
Leverage iterative questioning to drill down to root causes using the 5 Whys analysis strategy:
- Define problem statement
- Ask why it happens and capture answer
- Ask why 4 more times to underlying factors
- Identify solutions once at root cause
Value-Add vs Non Value-Add Step Analysis
Categorize each process activity as value-add or non-value-add from the customer perspective. Evaluate the necessity of steps not directly contributing value.
Waste Identification Techniques
Think about ways to reduce things like defects, wait times, excess movement (too many touchpoints), overproduction, over-processing, and talent underutilization.
Equipping our teams to employ deliberate and rigorous root cause analysis methods prevents superficial solutions that temporarily alleviate symptoms versus resolve process flaws at their core. We invest the time needed to fully diagnose why processes fail in order to architect and implement the right longer-term solutions.
Improving the Process
Once priority processes have been identified, we move to the process improvement stage.
Typical ways we enhance processes include:
- Simplifying steps to reduce complexity.
- Standardizing procedures to limit variation.
- Automating manual tasks where possible.
- Eliminating redundant approvals or hand-offs that don't add value.
- Incorporating quality control checks to prevent defects.
- Adding visual controls, guides, or training to support employees.
- Modifying workflows to improve process flow.
Improving processes also requires changing management behaviors that allow inefficient practices to persist. Leaders have an important role in communicating the importance of new efficient practices and holding employees accountable to follow process improvements implemented.
Documenting and Training Improved Processes
A common pitfall once enhancements launch is losing knowledge of how and why the future state was configured without diligent documentation. Our teams put as much effort into documenting redesigned processes for sustainability as we do designing them for performance.
Documented processes and policies capture exact workflow steps, inputs and outputs, roles, and systems interactions to guide consistent execution. Risks and dependency points are also noted to inform training and support needs.
For training, we tailor content and delivery modes based on audience needs when upskilling on process changes. Hands-on training, videos, and written instruction are all part of true learning and performance excellence. We also need to create feedback loops for employees to surface issues or changes needed as the business grows.
With thorough documentation that is continuously improved as processes evolve, we establish collective knowledge and confidence in executing processes as designed. Our detailed playbooks result in fewer surprises, deviations, and risks of regression to old ways of operating after launch, ensuring we accomplish what we set out to do, grow the business, and continue to deliver the best experience possible.
Sustaining Process Improvements
The benefits of process enhancements are only realized if changes are adopted across the organization. We focus extensive effort not just on the technical design of future state processes but also on the people side of change management. Without getting buy-in, building skills, and reinforcing new workflows, improvement initiatives fail to gain traction. As part of launching process redesigns, we assign change champions to support transition. We train not just on the specific workflow steps but the reasons why the changes are beneficial.
Planned communications reinforce leadership direction and project team collaboration to gain trust in changes made. Since shifting habits and mindsets takes time after running processes one way for so long, we audit adoption and address gaps early in the change journey rather than assuming adoption.
And while a formal launch requires structured change support, sustaining continuous improvement calls for embedding it into company culture. We celebrate quick wins from early initiatives to gain momentum for more. Leadership messaging connects how streamlining operations translates to strategic priorities to maintain urgency. Skill building and coaching on process excellence practices spread capabilities company-wide. With layered formal and informal levers to enable adoption, we transition technical process changes into practical workflows through motivated and supported employees. This focus on people-centered and culturally anchored change management ensures improvement sticks by design not default.
Example - Improving Customer Onboarding
Identifying Onboarding as a Process to Improve
Customer onboarding is a critical process that affects customer satisfaction and retention. Data shows 30% of new customers churn within 90 days, indicating an opportunity to enhance their initial experience. The onboarding process is complex — involving sales, account management, and customer success spanning multiple systems and touchpoints.
Prioritizing Onboarding Process Improvements
Improving onboarding aligns to our company goals of increasing customer lifetime value. It directly impacts customer satisfaction metrics that have declined recently. The process redesign would require a 3-month project involving cross-functional team members. With executive support and moderate resource needs, priorities justify tackling this initiative now.
Building an Onboarding Process Improvement Team
We will include employees from Sales, Operations, Account Management, and Customer Success in the project team, along with recently onboarded customers to represent user needs. This 8-person team will attend twice weekly one-hour working sessions and collaborate asynchronously as needed over the 3-month project timeline.
Using DMAIC Methodology
Define - Map current onboarding workflow, perceived pitfalls, and baseline metrics.
Measure - Quantify baseline onboarding cycle times, customer feedback scores, and churn rates.
Analyze - Review pain points surfaced through customer interviews and employee feedback, and identify non-value-added steps and gaps.
Improve - Simplify and improve workflows and systems, create or update processes and training, and communicate changes to the team.
Control - Deliver a new onboarding experience to a pilot customer group and gather feedback on improvements. Expand based on results and iterate further.
Celebrate - Recognize and reward the team involved and highlight major wins across the company.
Documenting and Training Onboarding Changes
The updated 10-step onboarding process will be captured in our knowledge base — including roles, activities, systems, and assets to support each phase. We will create videos for self-service learning and host live virtual training sessions.
Measuring Onboarding Process Improvement Success
- NPS score: 68
- 30-day check-in average rating: 7/10
- Avg onboarding emails: 9
- Avg support tickets in 1st month: 3
- Avg time purchase to login: 4 days
- Avg time to dashboard access: 9 days
- Avg time to integration: 11 days
- First 90 day churn rate: 28%
- NPS score: 79
- 30-day check-in average rating: 9/10
- Avg onboarding emails: 3
- Avg support tickets in 1st month: 1
- Avg time purchase to login: 1 days
- Avg time to dashboard access: 3 days
- Avg time to integration: 5 days
- First 90 day churn rate: 18%
The focused cross-functional team was able to deliver measurable gains across key metrics by analyzing root causes and addressing major pain points during the onboarding journey. Customer ratings and loyalty both increased thanks to process simplification, employee training, and increased customer support. The new onboarding process is faster and more consistently guides users to value realization with the product.
Sustaining Onboarding Process Improvements
We’ll celebrate early customer experience improvements to gain internal buy-in for change. We’ll also assign Customer Success Managers as change champions to reinforce new workflows. Lastly, we’ll conduct an audit the new process quarterly and gather customer feedback to support continuous improvements.
At our company, the commitment to continuous improvement by refining our processes isn't just a philosophy; it's a practical approach to reducing wasted time and resources, ultimately allowing us to better serve both our internal teams and valued customers. Efficient and consistent processes play a pivotal role in meeting quality objectives, controlling costs, and enhancing employee productivity across the organization.
By regularly examining and optimizing the processes integral to our operations, we strengthen key functions that provide us with a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Process improvement is an ongoing journey embraced wholeheartedly by everyone within our company.
If you want some additional help documenting and improving your business processes, get in touch with one of our Trainual Certified Consultants.