“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a saying you hear often. But, when it comes to business, this is the worst thing an organization could follow. By not improving your processes, you’d suffer from inefficient and outdated processes. So, no matter how smoothly your business is operating, every business has the potential to do a little, or a lot, better. In today’s blog, we briefly get into what (business) process improvement is and six key types of process improvement methodologies you can implement to achieve continual business growth.

What is process improvement?

Process improvement, or also known as business process improvement (BPI), refers to the ongoing process of identifying, analyzing, and improving existing processes within an organization to make it faster, more accurate, more efficient, and more reliable. Essentially, it involves identifying inefficiencies or bottlenecks in current processes, analyzing the root causes of these issues, and implementing solutions to resolve them. 

There are several ways process improvement can benefit your business. This includes:

  • Saves time: process improvement decreases the time it takes to complete tasks through streamlining and reducing the number of steps involved in a process
  • Improves results: process improvement automatically leads to better results, such as improved employee performance or clearer tasks
  • Improves customer satisfaction: with process improvement, you can achieve more responsive customer service, deliver the highest quality of products, and hit your deadlines
  • Increases transparency and alignment: process improvement helps you understand and clarify all process stages to ensure that your frontline workers know their responsibilities, and it makes it easy for them to share information and work collaboratively 
  • Reduces waste:  removing steps or entire processes that don’t add value is a quick and effective way to ensure you’re wasting as little time and money as possible

What are some key types of process improvement methodologies?

6 Types of Process Improvement Methodologies

There are several types of process improvement methodologies an organization can implement in an effort to continuously seek and identify opportunities to strengthen or repair their existing business processes. In most cases, the methodology you choose depends on why you want to improve your processes and what you’re looking to improve. Here are five different types of process improvement methodologies that can help to reduce inefficiencies:

1. Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is one of the most popular types of process improvement methodologies used to create more efficient processes. It is a production process that focuses on maximizing productivity, while simultaneously reducing waste. In lean, waste is considered as any action that does not add value to the customer — there are seven types of waste that are identified under the lean manufacturing system. In the book, “The Machine That Changed the World,” James P. Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos highlights five main principles based off of their experiences at Toyota manufacturing. 

The Five Lean Manufacturing Principles:

  1. 1. Identify value
  2. 2. Value stream mapping
  3. 3. Create flow
  4. 4. Establish pull
  5. 5. Continuous improvement

2. Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means change for the better or continuous improvement. Essentially, the Japanese business philosophy of Kaizen guides the continuous improvement model. That is to say, Kaizen is based on the foundation of gradually and continuously improving all processes, and involving all employees, to make an organization’s business more successful. Moreover, the goal of continuous improvement is to improve all processes within a company by focusing on enhancing the activities that generate the most value for their customer, while also getting rid of waste.

There are three types of waste that Kaizen aims to remove — this concept is also know as the Toyota 3M Model

  1. 1. Muri (overburden): lack of resources, poor planning, or too much removal of waste
  2. 2. Mura (unevenness): overproduction that leaves behind waste 
  3. 3. Muda (wastefulness): any inefficiencies or non-value adding activities

 

3. PDCA

The PDCA cycle is a model for carrying out change. In essence, it is a four-step problem solving guide that frontline teams use to improve business processes and avoid making the same mistakes. 

There are four main steps to the PDCA cycle:

  1. 1. Plan — identify which problem you’d like to solve and how you’ll do it
  2. 2. Do — execute your plan and implement any necessary changes
  3. 3. Check — review the results and write down what works and what doesn’t
  4. 4. Act — make changes and improvements based on the previous step

The PDCA Cycle is an improvement cycle. That is to say, these steps can be repeated until the frontline team reaches their desired result.

4. 5 Whys Analysis

The 5 Whys Analysis is one of the best types of process improvement methodologies for root cause analysis. It is a problem-solving method that investigates the underlying cause-and-effect of particular problems. Basically, the primary goal of the 5 Whys analysis is to determine the root cause of a problem by asking the question “why?” 5 times. But, in some cases, more or less whys are required.

To perform the 5 Whys analysis, you’ll need to:

  1. 1. Define the problem and write it down
  2. 2. Start asking why that problem happened
  3. 3. Write the answer down — another problem will likely appear
  4. 4. Repeat steps one to three until the root cause of the problem is identified 

5. Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total quality management (TQM) is a customer-focused method that involves continually detecting and reducing, or eliminating, errors in manufacturing. Additionally, it is used to streamline supply chain management, improve customer service, and ensure that employees are properly trained. The goal of total quality management is to hold everyone in the production process accountable for the overall quality of the final product or service. 

Total quality management is based on eight key principles

  1. 1. Customer-focused
  2. 2. Total employee involvement
  3. 3. Process oriented
  4. 4. Integrate systems
  5. 5. Strategic and systematic approach
  6. 6. Improve continuously
  7. 7. Fact-based decision making
  8. 8. Communication

6. Six Sigma Methodology

Six Sigma is one of the types of process improvement methodologies that focuses on quality-control. That is to say, businesses use Six Sigma to minimize the amount of variations within the end product or service and improve processes. Developed by a scientist at Motorola in the 1980s, Six Sigma is often used in manufacturing largely due to the fact that it helps minimize defects and inconsistencies. In essence, the goal is Six Sigma is to optimize for consistency as this leads to improved customer satisfaction. 

The Six Sigma methodology uses a step-by-step approach called DMAIC for current processes. DMAIC stands for:

  1. 1. Define: the improvement opportunity
  2. 2. Measure: the performance of your current processes
  3. 3. Analyze: the processes to detect defects and determine root causes 
  4. 4. Improve: the processes by addressing root causes
  5. 5. Control: any improved processes and assess future process performance to correct variations