What is business process improvement & how to execute it

by Andy Nguyen
business process improvement

Every company relies on hundreds of business processes to function smoothly.

But if any one of these processes is faulty, it can cost you both valuable time and money. 

To avoid that, companies perform business process improvement.

But what is business process improvement?

And how do you do it? 

In this article, we’ll discuss in detail what business process improvement means, the steps involved in any process improvement, and the popular methodologies used worldwide. 

We’ll also cover how you can learn business process improvement and its career prospects. 

This article contains: 

(Click on the links below to jump to specific sections) 

Let’s get started. 

What is business process improvement?

Business Process Improvement (BPI) involves identifying and analyzing an existing process that you can improve to streamline workflows and boost overall business performance.

A business process could be: 

  • Operational: demo calls, reporting, manufacturing, or logistics.
  • Managerial: human resource development, budgeting, or corporate governance.
  • Supporting: recruitment, accounting, or IT support.

Business process improvement is also referred to as process improvement, business process management, continuous process improvement, or business process reengineering. 

But regardless of the names, they all have the same goal — to refine a business process for optimum results. 

For instance, imagine a situation where your customer complaints aren’t getting resolved, production costs are increasing, or several employees decide to quit. 

Now imagine these things happening regularly.

Not the most comfortable position to be in, right? 

Regular occurrences like these could indicate that your existing processes may be faulty. 

This is where business process improvement comes in.  

When do you need business process improvement? 

While businesses need constant improvement of every workflow, certain telltale signs call for business process reengineering. 

These could include: 

  • Presence of excessive time-taking manual processes.
  • Communication issues or lack of information and knowledge across the company. 
  • Business process duplication across departments.
  • Repetitive business errors using the current process.
  • Poor customer experience due to any existing business process. 

If your organization suffers from any of the above scenarios, you might need to employ a process improvement methodology to get things back on track. 

Clearly, fixing faulty processes is the primary objective of BPI.

However, you can also achieve other goals by using process improvement. 

Common goals of business process improvement 

Here’re the top benefits of improving any process through BPI:

  • Eliminate waste and friction: Using a business process improvement methodology, you can easily identify and eliminate processes that don’t add much value to the company.
  • Improve quality: Continuous process improvement allows you to spot mistakes and reduce errors in a process. This helps improve the quality of your products or services.
  • Reduce costs: BPI can help you modernize your workplace with automation to reduce process cycle times and operational costs.
  • Better compliance with rules and regulations: The right BPI initiative can ensure that every new process complies with the laws and regulations governing similar operations.
  • Employee motivation and satisfaction: Every process improvement effort involves your employees. When your processes are smooth, employees have the ease and clarity in performing their functions. As a result, they’re satisfied with their work and motivated to do more. 
  • Customer satisfaction: Happy employees can lead to a better customer experience. When the right processes are in place, the team works more efficiently and can serve the customer better. 

While these are the most tangible benefits of business process management, there’s one element that ties them all together, and that’s business process automation

Let’s find out how. 

Role of business process automation in BPI

One of the most efficient ways of process improvement is automation. Not only does technology reduce manual labor, but it also helps eliminate bureaucracy and errors. 

Realizing its benefits, 66% of business leaders across industries had introduced automation in at least one of their business processes in 2020 (McKinsey Survey).

Here’re some examples of process improvement that you could automate:

Now that you know what business process improvement projects are and how important they can be for any business, let’s dig into the steps involved in a BPI initiative.  

process mapping

How to perform business process improvement 

Here’re the five standard steps involved in business process management or improvement: 

Step 1: Business process mapping

The first step is to identify the process that needs improvement. 

To do that, you need process mapping (also known as process mining). It involves visualizing every business operation of your organization to zero down on one process that needs optimization. 

You can create a process map by drawing a flowchart or a mindmap. You can even use a workflow automation software solution like Asana or Kissflow.

Step 2: Analysis

Once you have your process map ready, the next step is to do a business analysis of your existing workflows. This is where you’ll be able to identify any improvement opportunity. 

Carefully examine each stage of a process to identify where delays occur and which stage consumes more time and money.

It’s also important that you trace back the problem to its origin. Only then can you find out the root cause and fix the problem. 

Step 3: Redesigning

Now that you’ve identified the pain point in your business process, you need to redesign it by adopting the following best practices: 

  • Talk to your team: Your team members can help you understand the old processes better and give inputs on what can be improved. 
  • Think long-term: Your ideas may work great in the short term, but your business improvement should also stay efficient and cost-effective in the long run. 
  • Map the exact scope of changes: While designing a new process, you also need to know its impact on your overall business. 
  • Use the right metrics for comparison:  An excellent way to assess whether your new method will work or not is by using operational efficiency as a metric to compare it with the existing process. 
  • Conduct a risk analysis: No matter how well you map and analyze, you can never fully predict the outcomes of a process. You’d want to account for potential risks before implementing any process change. 
  • Assign resources: Appoint and inform the resources you’ll need to implement the new process. Also, explain to each employee what they’ll need to do to improve your business operation.

Step 4: Implementation

Once you have an action plan and the right people on board, you’ll need to implement the process change to achieve desirable results. 

Create a detailed timeline and a standard operating procedure for your team. You might also need to invest in new technologies and improvement tools as a part of process management. 

Here’re the implementation steps you’ll need to follow: 

  • Implement at a small scale first to mitigate risk.
  • Test in real-time and take corrective measures.
  • Rope in additional resources if necessary.
  • Inform all the stakeholders about the process change. 

Step 5: Review and refinement

Once you’ve implemented the change, it’s time to review it. 

You’ll need to check if the change has resulted in an effective process. You’ll also need to assess its impact on other functions of your business. 

If you find any inefficiency, you’ll have to replan the entire process from Step 1

However, carrying out these steps is no cakewalk. 

You need a systematic approach or a BPI methodology to ensure proper implementation of process improvement.

Let’s explore some of the popular methodologies you can use. 

6 popular business process improvement methodologies 

Here’re the six most common process improvement frameworks used by businesses worldwide: 

1. Six Sigma

First developed by engineers at Motorola, this BPI methodology helps measure defects and inconsistencies in a process. 

The Six Sigma methodology uses the DMAIC framework for process improvement, which translates into:  

  • Define the improvement opportunity.
  • Measure the new process against the identified metrics. 
  • Analyze any defects or inconsistencies in the process.
  • Improve the existing process to eliminate the problem.
  • Control the new process through monitoring to prevent any further issues.

2. Toyota production system 

Generally referred to as “lean manufacturing” or “Just-in-Time (JIT) system,” this methodology was first developed by Toyota to manufacture vehicles quickly and efficiently. 

This lean management framework aims at continuous process improvement and maximizing customer value through waste elimination. 

Typically, the steps for lean process improvement include:

  • Define what value you seek to provide to the customer.
  • Draw a process map and identify the steps that are not creating any value.
  • Create flow to ensure that each process connects freely to the next without any break.
  • Cut out or modify non-value adding steps.
  • Improve the existing processes by repeating the above steps until your operations are efficient. 

3. Agile management 

Agile process management breaks a project into small pieces. Each piece is completed in defined work sessions called sprints.

This methodology helps teams ensure continuous improvement throughout the project lifecycle by releasing product segments and fixing errors quickly. 

Usually, the five phases of Agile management include: 

  • Envision: Conceptualize the project and customer needs.
  • Speculate: Brainstorm the initial requirements for the project or product. 
  • Explore: Map out the alternatives to fulfill project requirements. 
  • Adapt: Adapt to the changes and corrections based on customer feedback.
  • Close: Measure the final project against customer requirements. 

4. Total Quality Management

Total Quality Management (TQM) aims at cultivating long-term success through customer satisfaction.

Though similar to lean management, TQM focuses on the entire organization rather than just the process. This methodology helps optimize every company department to deliver value to the customer. 

This way, every department and every employee works towards a shared business goal. 

Organizations using total quality management for continuous improvement follow these basic principles: 

  • Organizations need to follow a strategic and systematic approach for achieving goals.
  • Customers define the level of quality for the organization.
  • Every employee within the organization works towards a common goal. 
  • Organizations need to clearly define the steps of any process and continually look for ways to be more efficient.

5. RAPID process improvement technique

RAPID is a continuous improvement methodology for improving processes quickly when the problem and its solution are identified.

The RAPID methodology stands for:

  • Review the problem.
  • Assess the current process.
  • Plan for process change.
  • Implement the action plan.
  • Determine the outcome.

The RAPID methodology includes effective BPI techniques like “Kaizen” and “Just-Do-It” that help quickly deliver value with minimal risk. They are usually helpful in improving a service-based workflow.

6. Theory of constraints

This BPI methodology helps identify the most significant constraint preventing a business from achieving its goal. It’s a continuous improvement framework that uses a systematic approach to improve the constraint until it’s no longer a roadblock.  

Once the operational efficiency is achieved, the TOC focuses on the next roadblock. 

Theory of Constraints uses five repeatable steps: 

  • Identify the bottleneck. 
  • Eliminate the constraint.
  • Align all other activities with the correction.
  • Realize other possible actions to eliminate the constraint.
  • Move to the next bottleneck.

Want to learn more about these methods? 

Why not enroll yourself in business process improvement training

Business process improvement training and certifications

If your organization employs a specific business improvement methodology, getting certified for using that framework will always help. 

If you plan to undergo business process improvement training, there are several options to choose from, such as:

Coming to the job prospects, according to Glassdoor, the average salary for a process improvement manager in the US is $95,440 per year.

Moreover, as process improvement is more of a methodology than a specific job title, several roles fit the context. These include a process analyst, process engineer, operations excellence manager, or continuous improvement specialist. 

Wrapping up

The success of any business boils down to how efficient its processes are. 

And, now that you have a good idea about business process improvement, it’s time to start using it to ensure significant improvement in your processes. 

After all, it’s not smart to wait for things to fall apart when you can quickly assess and rectify any flawed process before it becomes a full-blown problem.

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