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All process improvement is driven by a singular goal: to usher in higher levels of efficiency in an organization’s day-to-day operations. To accomplish this goal, teams often start by identifying wasteful practices within a process to remove inefficiencies, bottlenecks, or redundancies lurking beneath the surface.
But identifying what the issue is isn’t the end—determining how to implement a process improvement is the real challenge.
What are businesses' most common mistakes when approaching process improvement initiatives, and how can you avoid those? How do you take a process improvement project and inject it with additional value by measuring your results? Finally, how can you push your teams to think about process improvement in terms of continuous improvement rather than putting out fires?
That’s what we’re here to fill you in on.
Creating a foundation: Process improvement methodologies
Most businesses tackle these questions by implementing a process improvement or management methodology. Some of the most popular include:
- Lean Six Sigma: This framework combines lean principles for waste reduction with Six Sigma's focus on defect reduction.
- Agile Methodology: This methodology involves breaking projects into phases, encourages quick feedback loops and iterations, and promotes continuous collaboration and improvement.
- Business Process Management (BPM): BPM is a systematic approach to optimizing and managing an organization's processes, focusing on efficiency, effectiveness, and continuous improvement.
- Lean Manufacturing: Lean seeks to minimize waste and maximize value by streamlining production processes and emphasizing customer satisfaction.
- Theory of Constraints: This management philosophy identifies and addresses bottlenecks or constraints within a system to improve overall productivity and performance.
While these methodologies can yield successful results, it’s a mistake for organizations to believe any of them will be a cure-all. Relying entirely on a single methodology can frustrate stakeholders when inefficiencies arise and workflows aren’t followed.
For some organizations, one of these methodologies might be a comprehensive solution that works flawlessly. For others, combining a couple of approaches might be more effective. So, think deeper about what your teams need to succeed and how you can take pieces from these methodologies and use them to create the perfect solution for your organization.
If you’re struggling to find out whether you should implement a particular methodology or even pieces of a framework, here are a few tips:
- Identify your goals: If you know where you’re going, it’s much easier to know where to start. Identifying your goals will help you choose the proper framework to help you achieve them.
- Get clear on bottlenecks: Getting clear on your roadblocks will likely help you choose the ideal methodology or know what you need to incorporate to eliminate them.
- Gather feedback from your team: Your team will be able to test things out first and let you know what kinds of improvements they’re seeing. Their feedback and quantitative data will make it easier to gauge how things are going with a current or past process.
5 common pitfalls in business process improvement (and how to avoid them)
We’ve been around the block regarding improving our internal processes and helping our customers with their improvement initiatives. So, we’ve gathered five of the most common pitfalls that can make process improvement projects frustrating. Awareness of these pitfalls is a helpful preparatory step before you dive into your next process improvement initiative, as they can help you avoid potential obstacles.
1. Lacking data support
Leaders will often call for an all-hands-on-deck approach to process improvement ideation, but they need the support of data to guide or validate their decisions. And if data does exist, it’s often buried in complex spreadsheets, making it hard to extract meaningful insights.
When you bring teams together, there are bound to be many ideas about which processes to improve and how. The issue is that it’s difficult to measure the impact of implementing all those ideas and even more challenging to prioritize them.
Instead of a vague call for input, you should measure your processes and analyze that data to determine where your teams can remove waste and optimize workflows.
Then, rather than team members feeling like their ideas aren’t being heard during a meeting, you can prioritize ideas based on data and create clear action plans.
Here’s a data piece you may be overlooking: success measures for each process. How do you know that a specific process improvement project is taking too much time to wrap up? How do teams know which tasks to prioritize? Answer these questions by identifying what a successful process looks like and how they’ll measure it.
To identify processes to improve, leaders should start by analyzing data from previous projects and measuring their performance against key metrics. Those metrics may include efficiency, productivity, cycle time, turnaround time, effectiveness, capacity, timeliness, and more.
Use the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-based) methodology to create achievable and quantifiable goals tied to your identified metrics. Setting achievable goals helps increase visibility among your team members.
With the data you’ve collected as a baseline and your actionable goals as a lighthouse, it’s much easier to know when something is off-base. This knowledge and visibility allow leaders to bring issues to their teams and measurable options to solve those issues.
2. Operating from a narrow perspective
Teams often make the mistake of siloing themselves and trying to improve their internal processes. The issue with this approach is that teams won’t understand how their process improvements affect other connected teams and departments, restricting visibility and making it harder to measure results.
It's essential to approach process improvement through a systemic lens rather than a narrow team perspective. This broader perspective allows teams to identify and address blockers and impediments in the process. After all, improving efficiency within a group is meaningless if it doesn't contribute to delivering results at the end of the day.
What sets Lucid apart is our commitment to data-driven visualizations. Visuals serve as a universal language, enhancing communication. Lucid's visualization capabilities make it significantly easier for teams to grasp their place within the larger system. This increased visibility becomes a game-changer in the realm of process improvement.
3. Lacking a future state vision
While the current state mapping process is critical to identify what is causing issues in your system (mainly because it may differ from what you initially thought), you don’t want to get stuck in the past. Teams also need a clear vision of the future to understand what needs changing and how.
To alleviate this problem, begin with a future state map. If you initially focus on mapping the future state, you’ll create a document tied to success. That future state document can serve as a north star for your teams, guiding everyone through the project and aligning all initiatives with that vision of future success.
Once you have a clear vision of the ideal process, it may be easier to identify areas in your current state that don’t align with the future state you’ve created.
This is a classic articulation of the beginning with the end in mind, but that timeless advice is true for business process improvement.
Pro tip: To effectively map the future state of your process, get clear on your process improvement goals. This way, you’ll know what you’re trying to accomplish by changing the workflow, which can guide your decisions on the future state. If you need somewhere to start, check out these goal-setting templates.
4. Only improving processes reactively
Don’t wait until a process is in dire need of improvement to start documenting its current state. Instead, take a proactive approach to documentation and think of mapping the current state not as the first step in a process improvement project but as a continuous task.
Another approach to consider is that as teams work to release a new feature or wrap up a sale, they can document the workflow as they go. Making the process itself a deliverable in addition to the work can make it so everything is tied together with a tangible example.
5. Involving the wrong people at the wrong time
All progress depends on having the right people in the room at the right time. Determining who those individuals are can be far more complex than it initially appears. A standard guideline involves those closest to the process to the improvement project, and while that’s true, the rule has limits.
Those intimately familiar with the current process are invaluable when mapping the current state; they provide the most accurate perspective and can get the closest to the ultimate source of truth.
However, the leadership team needs to take the helm when it comes to shaping the process’s future state. The primary objectives for leadership teams are to formulate overarching visions, remove obstacles for their teams, and clarify those visions.
By creating the future state of the process (in collaboration with those working within it), they can fulfill all those objectives and create a crystal-clear vision and action plan for their teams.
Their teams will feel more guided, supported, and empowered as a result.
3 steps to actually improve your processes
Employees might groan when asked to improve an existing process, and for understandable reasons.
Process improvement might feel like a barrier to “real work,” especially when teams expect pointless process improvement projects that never truly go anywhere. Or, if they do lead to change, the results aren’t measured, so there is no way to quantify the impact.
This is the frustration we want to help you avoid. These three steps focus on the process of process improvement—that is, how to actually improve your processes, make work easier for your teams, alleviate frustration, remove impediments, and improve workflows for everyone.
1. Ideate and plan
As we covered in the pitfalls section, many teams get bogged down in the ideation stage by the current process. Getting stuck in this stage might look like countless drafts of a current state map and directionless meetings attempting to workshop how to improve the current state. Instead of going through these rounds, let the future vision of the process guide these ideation sessions and help clarify the current state.
To create a productive ideation session, gather your team together and get clear on your future vision. Leadership teams should be directing this meeting and trying to remove obstacles blocking the team from creating the ideal state.
Start those ideation sessions by asking your team, “What does success look like? What are our goals with this process? What do we want this process to accomplish, and why?” Right off the bat, these questions will guide your teams into a productive, forward-thinking discussion that can lead to a powerful and precise map of the future state of the process.
How should leadership teams go about identifying obstacles? By visualizing potential roadblocks and keeping the big picture in mind.
One of the most common mistakes teams make when tackling a process improvement project is to approach it from a narrow perspective. When teams try to improve only their own processes within their unit instead of the system, they lose track of how the process fits into the overall organization. In concentrating on improving the system, you must consider how the team and the process you aim to improve fit into the organization.
2. Design and build
This leads us to one of the most critical aspects of the designing and building phase. Teams will often view the documentation of the current or future state as a single, static document. This narrow perspective makes it impossible to perceive the impact of process improvement effectively. Instead, teams should aim to work in layers.
Layers play a pivotal role in the design process because they enable you to present a high-level, easily digestible version of your procedure and a more detailed breakdown of each step. Choose a platform that facilitates working across different pages within a single document and interlinking them to create a dynamic representation of your new process.
In Lucid, you can seamlessly work with layers on an infinite, unified canvas and create distinct pages within your document. This functionality is handy, especially considering that Lucid empowers you to build your process using visuals—a universal language that enhances comprehension and iterative refinement.
Then you have Lucid’s excellent collaboration features, including the ability to tag or mention team members, place sticky notes directly on the board to call out important details, switch between high-level and detailed overviews, host voting sessions directly in the document, and easily share the document with anyone. You can build brilliant and interactive designs within Lucid's platform with dynamic shapes, conditional formatting, data linking, and more.
3. Launch and monitor
Once you’ve launched a new workflow or updated an existing one, you must store the documentation you created during the process of process improvement. Having this documentation will allow you to build up a documentation repository that acts as a living blueprint of your innovative decisions, ideation processes, design iterations, result-tracking dashboards, and much more.
During the launching and monitoring stage of process improvement, you’ll want to look for opportunities to automate workflows. Manually keeping up on documentation and data tracking can be tiresome and leaves room for error.
Instead, you’ll want to ensure your platform has intelligent features that keep your documentation up-to-date automatically and guarantee uninterrupted visibility. That includes pulling data from other systems that indicate how long specific steps take. This way, leaders have a real-time view of the process and the progress.
Lucid is a natural partner in this process because if you’ve used Lucid to create your process improvement visuals, you’ve organically added to your innovation repository.
Creating highly intelligent visuals within our platform means you’re naturally creating a living blueprint of how you went about optimizing your processes. Having that documentation means it will be easier to replicate successful strategies, iterate on feedback, bring on new hires, provide context for decisions, and so much more.
Lucid is an ideal partner in process improvement
With a solid foundation in visuals, intelligence, data, and automation, Lucid is an ideal partner to empower teams to build and optimize innovative processes.Get in touch
Lucid Software is a pioneer and leader in visual collaboration dedicated to helping teams build the future. With its products—Lucidchart, Lucidspark, and Lucidscale—teams are supported from ideation to execution and are empowered to align around a shared vision, clarify complexity, and collaborate visually, no matter where they are. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucid.co.
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