Business Process Improvement Tools – A Complete Guide for Business Owners
As you’ve built your business, you’ve created patterns for how things get done. Over the years, you teach those patterns, improve them, and eventually codify them into business processes.
From time to time, you know that these processes could be more efficient, but it’s not always clear exactly what needs to be changed in order to make those improvements. That’s especially true when trying to examine processes that have changed little since your company was started.
That’s where business process improvement tools come in.
But what is business process improvement? BPI is a management discipline that organizations employ to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the regular patterns by which they operate.
BPI can be broken down into four steps:
Like many things in business, BPI is only as effective as the tools used to implement it, so let’s take a look at the business process improvement tools an owner or manager might employ.
Types of business process improvement tools
Businesses often have processes in place that have never been examined carefully. A number of different process mapping methods exist that can help you and your team visualize your processes and identify areas for improvement. Some process mapping methods are:
- Process flowcharts
- SIPOC diagrams (suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers)
- Value stream mapping
- Swimlane diagrams (also called cross-functional maps)
Each of these serves a different purpose and will help reveal different nuances of your business processes. You may need to use more than one kind of map for each process to help identify areas for improvement.
Of course, every business owner wants to solve the problems that are holding the company back. In that way, every business owner is trying to solve problems.
Unfortunately, we often fail to perceive the underlying cause of the problem, and we end up solving for symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.
One way to get to the real cause is the “Five Whys” method, a Japanese problem-solving technique that prescribes asking “why” at least five times when trying to identify the cause of an issue.
Another method, the Cause and Effect analysis, is a simple exercise used to visualize the possible causes of a problem.
The issue, say “bugs in new features,” is placed on the far right of a page/screen, and all the relevant factors are placed to the left. For example, “clients, communication, and employees” are all relevant to new features. In each of those categories, you list possible causes of the problem.
A client may have unrealistic expectations, communication among departments may be to blame, and your employees may not have adequate training for the given tasks or they may simply be too few employees on the project. From this point you investigate each possibility to find the cause(s).
Two of the best-known BPI methodologies are DMAIC and PDCA. Each acronym is a framework for business process improvement and can be viewed as cyclical rather than linear, encouraging continuous improvement over time.
- Define – define the problem, goals, requirements, etc.
- Measure – measure performance at baseline “business as usual.”
- Analyze – analyze the level of success at baseline and identify causes of problems.
- Improve – improve processes by addressing the problems identified.
- Control – use quality control measures and data to ensure improvements are effective and permanent.
- Plan – identify your problems, goals, and strategy to implement change.
- Do – carry out the strategy, usually on a small scale at first.
- Check – analyze the effectiveness of your efforts.
- Act/Adjust – make changes where necessary and prepare for the next iteration/ expansion of your plan.
Employing one of these methodologies repeatedly over time can help you identify areas for improvement and create a culture of positive change. Beyond the very hands-on steps of mapping, problem solving, and applying methodologies, there’s one important tool we haven’t covered yet: automation.
Once you’ve identified areas for improvement in your processes, you’ll probably notice a theme: inconsistency. Many of the failures and inefficiencies in business processes are the result of inconsistent implementation. Automation can help.
Automation software ensures that new items in your team’s flow always go through the correct processes, from new employee hiring to software features development, saving your company time and money and allowing your employees to focus on the value-added and meaningful work they came on board to do.
Business process improvement tools for the modern world
Kissflow is process automation software and more. Kissflow’s complete digital workplace allows your team to collaborate effectively from anywhere, and its process automation features help ensure consistency.
The visual process creator helps you define your workflow with drag-and-drop tools. Integrations let you connect your business solutions seamlessly, saving time and reducing errors.
Performance metrics let you analyze your processes and make changes quickly and easily so your team can keep improving.
Ready to improve your business processes? Sign up for a free Kissflow demo today.