What Is Business Process Improvement? (Plus Methodologies)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A business process refers to routine steps that you take each time you complete a specific task. You might have processes in place at work for actions like emailing your human resources (HR) department, writing reports and contacting new clients. Process improvement allows you to examine the processes you have in place and determine which might benefit from revision or development to best support your business operations. In this article, we define business process improvement, share the benefits and include a list of several process improvement methodologies you can use.

What is business process improvement?

Business process improvement helps you ensure the procedures you use at work are effective and promote success within the company. You can use process improvement to find places where you can improve your processes and ways to use time and resources appropriately. Process improvement involves assessing the needs and requirements that a business uses processes for and determining how effective the processes currently in place are. Then, you can decide which actions you can take to improve processes that need revision and create solutions that improve their efficiency.

Benefits of business process improvement

Process improvement has many benefits for organisations. Here's a description of several:

Conserving resources

One of the most important benefits of process improvement is the ability to save time, money and materials by streamlining each process to use only what it needs for each task, conserving additional resources for other projects. For example, you may improve your hiring process to save time between hiring and training new team members. Process improvement can also help identify places where you can establish new business processes, as you can see which areas or tasks require the most resources to complete and make new processes that cater to those needs.

Maximising efficiency

Process improvement also works to increase efficiency at work. It allows you to identify areas where your current processes become inefficient and then create new, better processes that don't waste time or money. Improving efficiency improves the performance of work and can also help reduce waste within a business. For example, an athletic training department might use process improvement to streamline the process for ordering equipment so that it's easier for staff members and more streamlined for the customer.

Identifying problem areas

Process improvement helps identify problem areas within processes by looking at each process from every angle possible and examining each step in detail. This creates a clear outline of how effective each step of a process is and whether there are any areas where your team can make improvements. For example, a process improvement for a fast food restaurant might involve examining the process for serving customers in line. It might identify steps that are unnecessary and others that you can eliminate or improve to make the overall process more efficient.

Increasing customer satisfaction

Process improvement also helps improve customer satisfaction by improving the quality of customer service. For example, a company may implement a new process that allows it to resolve customer complaints faster. This improves the overall experience for customers and can increase the likelihood of repeat business.

Improving employee performance and morale

Process improvement also increases the performance of staff members by allowing them to perform their jobs more efficiently and with less effort. Improving each step in a process allows employees to work faster and better than they could before, increasing their satisfaction with their jobs and helping them to feel like they're able to do their work in the most effective way possible. It can also improve employee morale by allowing them to accomplish more during their workday and feel content with their ability to produce positive results.

Related: How to Become a Business Analyst (With FAQs and Answers)

Process improvement methodologies

Here are several methodologies you can use for process improvement:

Six Sigma

Six Sigma offers guidance for managing a business most effectively. Using Six Sigma tools involves gathering information about existing processes and using it to determine which processes need improvement. You can then use this data to decide on solutions for each process to improve efficiency. Six Sigma tools aim to improve customer satisfaction and prevent challenges like prolonged cycle times and product defects.

A popular Six Sigma method is DMAIC, which instructs users to 'Plan, Do, Check, Act.' DMAIC can improve processes by finding solutions that save time and money. You might use a project charter or process map to track DMAIC progress.

Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints can show which processes might need revision by following the same list of steps to evaluate each process in a workplace. This can streamline the business improvement process by creating a standard for all operations to follow, which you can use to find constraints in any process. Here are the steps to follow when using the Theory of Constraints:

  • identify the constraint

  • consider solutions for the constraint

  • subordinate and synchronise to the constraint

  • solve the constraint

  • repeat as necessary

Lean tools

You can use lean tools to help identify processes or steps in processes that might currently generate waste. Lean tools can help identify challenges like overproduction, wait times, transportation, inventory and defects in products and offer solutions for how to correct them in their respective processes.

One example of a lean tool is 5S tools, which can encourage safety, lower costs and increase the efficiency of current processes. You can employ 5S methods by comparing pictures of workspaces before and after implementing new processes, completing team activity checklists and evaluation forms and establishing guidelines for maintaining the office.

Related: How to Become a Business Intelligence Analyst in 4 Steps

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total Quality Management identifies processes that might need improvement by focusing on customer satisfaction. You might use Total Quality Management to improve processes that help reach sales goals and support customers who have inquiries.

A primary element of Total Quality Management is collaboration, as employees decide which processes require improvement by establishing a general understanding of quality standards and procedures for communicating with each other and with customers. Total Quality Management also promotes working toward shared goals, which can help encourage employees to work together to find creative solutions.

Kaizen

The Kaizen methodology focuses on quality improvements and cost savings, with the ultimate goal of improving processes. Kaizen is most often used to improve business processes by using a team to improve each step of a process. Sigma and Kaizen work well together, as each methodology can support the other's elements to improve a business process. You can also use Lean tools as part of a Kaizen implementation process to help identify problem areas or wastes that might exist in a process you're targeting for improvement.

Just-in-time

Just-in-time is a method of inventory control that involves keeping inventory levels low and replacing them only when they're needed. This can help reduce costs associated with waste and unsold products. You can implement this process in any business, but it may be most effective in industries where customer satisfaction is important. For example, restaurants and grocery stores may benefit from implementing just-in-time processes, as they work with perishable products.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System is a process improvement methodology that can help owners and managers build an environment of continuous improvement, which can create a more efficient and less wasteful workplace. Toyota Production System helps improve processes by focusing on the flow of materials through each step in the process and by evaluating how each team member performs their tasks. Toyota Production System uses several different tools to improve processes, including 5S tools, flowcharting and checklists. You can also use Kaizen to improve individual steps in business processes as part of the Toyota Production System.

Related: What Does a Process Engineer Do? (Plus How to Become One)

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA)

Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) is a method of improvement that can help companies improve processes by identifying problem areas that might exist and offering solutions. You can use PDCA to find potential problems in a process, investigate possible solutions and implement the best solution within budget. PDCA encourages managers to take action on their findings, whether the methods chosen for improvement are using the Theory of Constraints or Lean tools.

Business process reengineering (BPR)

Business process reengineering focuses on restructuring business processes to be more efficient and effective. If a business process is inefficient, BPR can offer suggestions about ways to revise it and make it more effective for future customers. For example, if a company's customer satisfaction rates are lower than they may like them to be, BPR may suggest revising key customer service processes to improve those rates.

Related: The Performance Management Process: Your Ultimate Guide

Organisational value stream mapping (OVSM)

Organisational value stream mapping (OVSM) is a method of identifying waste by dividing your organisation into small groups and working with several groups at once to identify problem areas in each step of a process. You can use OVSM to create individual process maps for each step in a process, which can help identify problems that exist in the current process. OVSM can also help improve processes by creating systems for prioritising improvement projects to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

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