The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability

The Power of Business Process Improvement: 10 Simple Steps to Increase Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Adaptability

by Susan Page

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Baffled by repeated mistakes in your department? Want to focus your employees’ limited time on more valuable work? The answer to these challenges and more is business process improvement (BPI). Every process in every organization can be made more effective, cost-efficient, and adaptable to changing business needs.

The good

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Baffled by repeated mistakes in your department? Want to focus your employees’ limited time on more valuable work? The answer to these challenges and more is business process improvement (BPI). Every process in every organization can be made more effective, cost-efficient, and adaptable to changing business needs.

The good news is you don’t need to be a BPM expert to get great results. Written by an experienced process analyst, this how-to guide presents a simple, bottom-line approach to process improvement work. With its proven 10-step method you can:

Identify and prioritize the processes that need fixing • Eliminate duplication and bureaucracy • Control costs • Establish internal controls to reduce human error • Test and rework the process before introducing it • Implement the changes

Now in its second edition, The Power of Business Process Improvement is even more user-friendly with new software suggestions, quizzes, a comparison of industry improvement methods, and examples to help you apply the ideas. Whether you are new to BPI or a seasoned pro, you will have business running better in no time.

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"With The Power of Business Process Improvement to lead the way, business managers will have the power to help their business stay competitive and responsive to customers, as well as nimble and resilient." --The Work Style Magazine

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Publication date:
Edition description:
Second Edition
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Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


The Roadmap

Learning How to Navigate

Have you ever had a problem that you know little or nothing about land on your desk at work? Does the problem make you feel overwhelmed and uncertain as to where to begin? Challenges like this usually occur when you already have a full workload, unrealistic deadlines, and limited resources. What can you do when you feel lost, like Hansel or Gretel trying to find your way out of the forest?

Learning to navigate through unfamiliar territory goes a long way toward easing the burden and can help you feel comfortable dealing with the unknown. Business process improvement (BPI) work, the systematic examination and improvement of administrative processes, can seem scary and overwhelming because no one teaches this navigation skill in school. But once you give it some thought, everything is a process, from making breakfast for yourself in the morning to building the space shuttle. In both cases, you follow a series of actions or steps to bring about a result. Making breakfast, no matter how informal, is still a process. You brew the coffee, cook the eggs, and toast the bread. If Vince Lombardi had run a business instead of a football team, we might remember him today for saying that process isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

The techniques covered in this book help smooth the path to successful BPI by clearing away the unknowns and delivering the power of process improvement directly into your hands. Whether you consider yourself an expert on the subject or do not see yourself as a process person, you will appreciate learning how to tackle process improvement work in a bottom-line, straightforward approach. For the inexperienced, The Power of Business Process Improvement guides you along a proven, step-by-step approach to a successful result; for the expert, it becomes a handy A-to-Z reference guide to help you engage an organization in a process improvement effort.

This guide cuts through the long, confusing, and difficult-to-comprehend explanations regarding BPI and takes you directly to the core of what you, the business professional, want to understand. It describes a pragmatic approach to business process improvement that I developed over the years and that anyone can use in real time to solve real problems. The ten simple steps to increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability of your business processes start with the creation of a process inventory and end with how to keep a business process continually delivering value to the business.

If you want to evaluate how your company hires employees, secures sales, or manufactures a product, examining the underlying processes helps you better understand how the business works. Every day we experience challenges with inefficient or ineffective processes, and, after you start thinking of business processes as the foundation for the business, you begin to see the power of having a process focus and wonder why you waited so long to change your perspective.

Bill Gates wrote several years ago, “A rule of thumb is that a lousy process will consume ten times as many hours as the work itself requires.” This truth has not changed in all that time. We have all seen bureaucracy and red tape continually added to a business process. Bureaucracy happens not all at once but incrementally over time. A business process can easily become bloated, leading to an ineffective, inefficient, and inflexible process.

Improving business processes enables you to stay competitive and to increase your responsiveness to your customers, the productivity of your employees doing the work, and your company’s return on investment. The expertise to examine and understand how business processes work sets you apart from the rest because you have the power to demonstrate the value that the process delivers, its importance to your company, and the effect that a single change can produce.

People become interested in process improvement for any number of reasons. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

• Your customers, clients, or suppliers complain about the business process.

• You find that your department makes numerous errors and/or makes the same one again and again.

• You want to understand how your department can improve its efficiency so your employees can spend their limited time on more valuable work.

• You have accepted responsibility for a new organization or department, and you want to understand the work.

• You want to understand the end-to-end processes across your company.

• You discovered challenges with the handoffs between departments.

• You want to increase your department’s productivity.

• You noticed duplication of data or tasks in multiple departments.

• You started a new job and want to understand how the department works.

If you encountered one or more of these experiences, then BPI can help. It improves your ability to meet your customer’s needs, helps you eliminate errors, identifies opportunities to yield a more effective and efficient process, assists you in learning the end-to-end process for a new part of the business, makes clear the relationship between departments and the roles and responsibilities of each, improves your organization’s productivity, and eliminates redundancy.

Working on business processes helps demystify the process and makes a seemingly complex process less intimidating. Process improvement work also gives you the chance to engage a cross-functional team in the work so that everyone can learn the end-to-end business process, instead of simply focusing on his or her own piece of the process. You will find that, as you do the work, few employees understand the end-to-end process. Employees may understand their own piece but not how the entire process works from beginning to end. When a team works together on improving business processes, the work itself provides a means for colleagues to talk about common topics, and the team effort promotes an understanding of the interconnectivity of the work.

When you focus on a business process, it appears less threatening to colleagues than focusing on the employees who do the work. The process of finding challenges and linking those challenges to the process instead of to a particular employee leads to easier, less threatening solutions. No one employee or group of employees has to worry about repercussions.

On the other hand, BPI does affect the entire business system, including the employees who do the work; the information technology systems that support the process; the measurements established to assess the effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability of the process; and reward and recognition programs that exist in a company.

If you still find yourself wondering whether you should undertake a process improvement effort on one of your processes, ask yourself four questions. If you answer no to any of these questions, you should start examining your business processes:

 Does your process include a high level of customer/client interaction?

 Does every step in your process add value for the customer/client?

 Have you established customer- or client-focused metrics for the business process?

 Are your employees evaluated on their contribution to the business process?

Throughout this book, the term customer refers to someone external to a company who pays money for a product or service. The term client denotes an internal customer within a company.

If you work as an internal consultant in your company, then you probably work with clients. The client’s business processes should support the company’s business goals, which in turn should support the paying customer. Remember, in business process work, the customer is king, and you should always focus on the customer.

Can You Do It?

Many of the process improvement books on the market support the myth that business process improvement must be time-consuming and complex. The Power of Business Process Improvement shows that nothing is further from the truth. It presents you with numerous tools and examples that you can use to make the work simple and yet maintain high standards.

Perhaps you have shied away from process improvement because it looks like something that only an expert can do. In reality, you can do this work without having to learn the ins and outs of total quality management, reengineering, or business process management. This book shares my own unique approach to BPI, an approach influenced by many quality-related techniques that works for me every time. I have successfully used the approach outlined with every employee level in different and complex situations. It works. It works even with people who start out as skeptics.

As you apply the ten simple steps introduced in this chapter and covered in depth in the chapters that follow, you will find yourself adopting several of the quality-related philosophies because the focus on the customer is at their core, but you use them in a seamless way that makes the work palatable to the business.

I geared each step toward ease of use. This book answers basic questions and elaborates on how to perform each step by demonstrating its application. It explains topics that no one ever bothers to tell you about, either because authors, consultants, or colleagues assume that you already know about them or because they do not want you to know the full story, believing that knowledge is power and wanting to hold onto that power. The various BPI books on the market remind me of getting a favorite recipe from a restaurant, but with some key ingredient missing. This book tells you the whole story and gives you the power of knowledge.

You will feel comfortable with the formulas that I use throughout the book because they are the ones commonly used in business. You do not have to understand complicated statistical measurements of process capability or know how to use Six Sigma, Lean, or other quality methods. You have everything you need right now, so let us begin the journey.

The Journey

Anyone who has ever driven on vacation or taken a business trip knows how to follow a navigation system or read a roadmap to follow the best route to reach a destination. Roadmaps or driving directions are easy to follow. To help you navigate through the ten simple steps to BPI, I developed the roadmap in Figure 1-1. Join me as I take you on a trip through process improvement, using the roadmap as a mental model of the ten steps.

The roadmap becomes a meaningful tool for you to use with your colleagues when engaging them in the work. Business professionals like to know what the voyage looks like and how long it will take; the roadmap describes the journey.

The objectives of BPI are:

• Effectiveness: Does the process produce the desired results and meet the customer’s/client’s needs?

• Efficiency: Does the process minimize the use of resources and eliminate bureaucracy?

• Adaptability: Is the process flexible in the face of changing needs?

These three terms appear frequently throughout this book:

• Effectiveness focuses on the customers/clients and whether the process delivers what they want.

• Efficiency focuses on the employees responsible for the overall process, the workers in a department or departments, and how easily they can use the business process.

• Adaptability evaluates how easily you can modify the business process on the basis of changing business requirements.

Chapters 2 through 10 focus on the ten steps in the roadmap, describing each step and explaining how it works. Each chapter includes tools that I created to help with the step, summarizes the key points in the chapter, and ends with a time estimate, so you can see how long it takes to finish each step. Chapter 11 then helps you to gain recognition for your work. Chapter 12 introduces business process management (BPM), presents business process model notation (BPMN), and provides an overview of other improvement techniques. Chapters 13 and 14 discuss two of my business process projects from beginning to end. These case studies demonstrate how you can adapt the ten steps to changing circumstances because, just as you may encounter detours while driving a car, course changes also pop up during process work. As a result, you may find it necessary to alter your approach from time to time.

As you read this book, notice that the steps follow a specific order because the result of one step assists in performing the next step. In process terminology, you hear this progression described in terms of inputs and outputs. The output of step 1 in the roadmap leads to the input for step 2.

Now meet the people you will read about on our journey through BPI:

• The regional sales manager who did not feel that his sales team brought in a sufficient number of new customers

• The buyer who could not get her orders filled in a timely manner

• The marketing director who took too long to bring her product to market

• The training and development manager who wanted to reduce her team’s course development time

• The human resource bank vice president who could not decide which business process to focus on first

• The human resource information system manager who wanted to understand how system funding worked and how system costs hit his budget

• The compensation director who wanted to learn the head count requirements for his business processes

• The workforce analysis manager who wanted to understand why multiple groups in her company produced similar reports

• The vice president who wanted to know how to develop a recruitment process for his company’s expansion in Hong Kong

The Ten Simple Steps to Business Process Improvement

Although each chapter focuses on a step in the roadmap, I briefly explain each of them here so you have a snapshot of what is ahead.

tep 1: Develop the Process Inventory

Every department has numerous business processes to manage, but how do you decide which process to examine first? Take the simple process involved in joining a health club: First you identify the available clubs in your neighborhood, and then you list your key selection criteria. Do you care more about the distance from your home, the age of the facility, the type of equipment, or the qualifications of the staff? You choose the health club to join based on what is most important to you.

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