3 tools to help map and improve processes in your company

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Surely you’ve ever wondered, what is the factor that determines on company’s success or failure. Most probably, you were looking for the reasons among the company assets such as people, technology, culture, etc. These factors are obviously significant; however, none of these is universal enough to apply any rule suitable to all kinds of industries. However, if you look above the assets, you will notice something that exists between the components and values – the process.

The companies able to identify, analyze, and improve processes have an absolute market advantage. They can deliver better high quality results faster, with better use of existing environment. We believe that the business process software has great potential to shape reality, and our mission is to make the impact by constantly improving processes. It is encoded in Inwedo’s DNA, from the very first project until the most recent ones.

In this article, we want to share with you a set of tools that we use to help businesses optimize their processes. Each of these tools serves different purposes. It is a ready-to-go set that you can apply to identify roots and work out the solution or improvement of the process. But before we move on to the business process optimization, let’s take a closer look at the process itself.

What is business process?

At Inwedo, we perceive most of the reality as a process. Every set of actions and activities undertaken to achieve certain results in your organization is a process. And all the value your company produces is an effect of nothing else but a number (sometimes hundreds) of operations. Think about it – everything from R&D through product development to sales, and further client service is a process. It is so common that we are not even aware that some micro-parts of this complicated system, are processes as well.

The process is a fundamental bond that connects the company’s components and translates into the significant value of the organization’s overall performance, efficiency, and assessment. In recent years, a plethora of publications, methodologies, and books describing improvement has been published. However, while considering these improvements, we should bear in mind two variables: complexity (number of stages) and the number of stakeholders involved in the process. This complexity gives us a lot of space to decompose, analyze, and improve particular elements/stages, which may greatly affect the final output.

To give an example: employee onboarding (depending on the organization) may consist of the following processes:

  • Overview tour and company introduction
  • Meeting with a supervisor
  • First training and discussion about responsibilities
  • First employee/supervisor feedback
  • Etc.

As you can see – one process consists of a few others, and each of these may include another process or set of actions. Can you imagine how complex this map can be? And every single of these points is a field of potential improvement for the whole organization. It is vital to see all these points and, maybe even more important – to see connections and relationships between each of them. It is not impossible that the properly done meeting with a supervisor during may greatly improve the whole onboarding process and, as a result – increase the sale of our service. And here is the list of tools and methodologies we use in our everyday work, which will help you identify, see the connection, and improve the dots.

5 x why – the fast lane to root-cause analysis

You have probably heard about this method before; however, because of its simplicity and ease of implementation, it is our first aid set in business process optimization. The technique has it’s origins in Toyota Motor Corporation, introduced as one of the most vital methods of the problem identification system. The whole operating principle is written already in the method’s name. Whenever the problem or some worrying situation occurs, we set the question “why” and the answer leads us to the first reason. At that point, we ask the question one more time. And then… yes, you are correct – we repeat the sequence three more times. This way, we can dig deep up into the process, directly in the place where the problems exist and discover the real nature of a problem.

Example:
Problem: The number of sales in our eCommerce store dropped by 90% during the last 48 hours.
1. Why?
Because the customers couldn’t log to their accounts and finalize shopping.
2. Why?
The database was down for more than 24 hours.
3. Why?
The current infrastructure couldn’t handle the traffic generated by the new campaign.
4. Why?
The cloud package we bought isn’t big enough to serve such traffic.
5. Why?
Our estimations for the current year were underestimated in terms of marketing reach and traffic.

In this case, there could be a number of different reasons for the state mentioned in the problem. In the end, the wrong estimations turned out to be a core problem. What is the benefit in this case? The management board can adjust budgets and prepare the rest of operational activities (returns, deliveries, customer service, etc.) to meet a demand generated by increasing traffic.

When to apply: “5 times why” works best after you solve the first layer of the problem and want to avoid similar situations in the future. It is so universal that you can apply it in any kind of problem – from inoperative printer to delays in project delivery.

A3 Process and Problem Solving – universal recipe to design a solution

“A3” in the name may bring you the associations with the popular size of a piece of paper. And you are absolutely right. The name comes from this common thing, as the main idea is to fit the whole problem description and proposed solution on a single sheet of paper. Again, the methodology has been invented in Toyota Motor Corporation. It is a super-comprehensive method to design an extensive solutions. But what makes it so unique and worth discussing?

Usually, the problem-solving workshops tend to be chaotic and exhausting. The solutions are rarely comprehensive, often written down in a few different documents. During the open discussions, we tend to skip details and move the conversation toward the non-related topics. As a result, applied solutions plans lack the important aspects, which impose an iteration of inclusive design development – making the whole process more expensive and time-consuming.

The A3 process mapping gives your team a solid framework to follow in order to improve the process or solve a problem. It is a ready-to-go plan pointing all the vital steps to take, questions to ask, and spots to check out. Additionally, the plan structure forces team members to pay greater attention to details. The A3 process shouldn’t take more time out of your schedule than traditional problem-solving meeting. And the comprehensive solution-plan will save your time and decrease risk at the following implementation stage.

Apply it now: Take the method for a test ride. All you need is a piece of paper and a pen. Take some example issue of your organization and try to conduct the following process:

  1. Name the problem or process to improve
  2. Describe the current state
    – remember to consider all the stakeholders; stages of the current process; note down all the observations around the process.
  3. Make a root-cause analysis
    You can conduct a comprehensive form of Root-Cause analysis or turn into more partial solutions (such as mentioned five times why). It depends on project complexity, and the most important is output. Be sure you are aware of the reasons the current state occurs.
  4. Countermeasures of the current state
    Think about all of the possible solutions that could improve the current process. Think about what can you do in this particular situation to make things better or closer to perfect state?
  5. Define the desired, perfect state
    Try to describe it as clear as possible. You can draw the process and add the number of representations of KPI’s that would give your organization a better position.
  6. The implementation plan
    Create a simple project roadmap that will change the current process. Point out the specific tasks to accomplish, responsibilities, and timeline.
  7. The follow-up plan of the output
    This plan is a guide for team members to make sure the plan was realized correctly. Point out all the metrics you would like to measure to make sure that you met the targets assumed before the workshop.That’s it when it comes to our worksheet. The rest of the job happens out of a sheet of paper.
  8. All hands on board
    Gather all the stakeholders that may be impacted by the process optimization and present them with the plan. Ask their opinions and collect feedback, just think about all the links between improving process and the other processes. This way, you can make sure that the plan won’t have any adverse effects.
  9. Execute your plan
  10. Check the results
    Last, but not least! Remember to track the changes, measure, and evaluate whether the plan makes your company closer to the state defined in step two.

When to apply: Use A3 mapping whenever you face some complex problem that significantly affects on company’s effectiveness and requires comprehensive approach. With this method you can address problems as: incoherent onboarding process or inefficiency in external communication and documentation flow.

DMAIC analysis – the way to encode process improvement in company’s culture

The DMAIC is a five stages system that aims in process optimization management on a regular basis. And no, it doesn’t come from Toyota. The technique is a part of the very comprehensive Six Sigma methodology. It is worth to mention that the DMAIC approach works best while implemented systematically. Don’t consider it as an ad hoc pain reliever, it’s rather long-term curation improving the overall health of the whole organization. It is a great way to gain business value such as increased quality, faster delivery time, reduce bottlenecks in all range of processes.

The acronym DMAIC stands for the names of five following stages of the method:

  • Define
    At that point, we, yes… define the motivations (for a change), needs, stages, and value of the particular process. At that point, we try to get an excellent overview of the whole process, including the stakeholders. Find a list of leading questions that may help you define current state:
    Is there any way we can save * specific resources* with maintaining current quality level?
    How much does every additional customer increase the particular costs of process?
    How far can you scale with the existing infrastructure/solution?
  • Measure
    Follow all the process in end-to-end scope, and identify all the activities undertaken till the final output. Try to asses all the performance at each stage, perfectly if you can visualize them with numbers.
  • Analyze
    After you noticed the bottleneck of process, conduct mentioned before root cause analysis. It can be 5 times why or any other method. It is crucial to find the nature of the problem.
  • Improve
    Simply way to eliminate causes noted on a previous stage. As this method is not super-detailed, this stage consists of both project roadmap and execution.
  • Control
    Similar to A3, and most of the lean methodologies. We measure assumed KPI’s, evaluate effects, and make a judgment about the further process improvement.

When to apply: Although you can notice some similarities between DMAIC and A3 methodologies, they serve quite different objectives. First of all, DMAIC is less detailed than A3, which makes it easier to implement as a part of the structured improvement management strategy. Secondly, A3 was designed mostly for problem-solving; on the other hand, DMAIC aims to improve particular processes.

Wrap up

The process is a significant element that varies on success or failure of each organization. Certainly, there is no effect nor output without the process. And luckily, most case scenarios, this powerful phenomenon is really complex, which gives us a lot of space for improvement. To get the most of this chance, we need the set of right tools and approach that will help us to identify and effectively manage processes. Proposed set of tools gives you a flying start to work out the processes inside your organization.

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