Processes and Systems
We tend to think of our organization as a place where numerous tasks get done; putting labels on envelopes, stamping letters, testing product, calling customers, etc. We should look at these tasks differently, to think of them as steps in a process. Exactly, how did the stamp get on the envelope? Where did the envelope come from and how did it get there?
We can define a process by grouping in sequence all the tasks directed at accomplishing one particular outcome. Examples are the steps in procuring a product, hiring or training a new employee, or entering an order. Based on this definition, we begin to see that every activity is part of a process, and there are many processes in every organization.
Whole new insights open up when you begin to see tasks as related series of events. You begin to understand how work throughout the organization are related. It helps you focus your thinking because realizing that the organization works through processes, you can only improve your work by improving processes.
A group of related processes is seen as a system. Developing a product, for instance, is a system that involves many interrelated processes.
There are ten (10) steps to improving a process. I will review the first three steps in this post and the remaining steps in subsequent posts.
Step 1: Identify the Process Owner and Improvement Team
Each process must have an owner, a person who takes responsibility for the process and ensure its overall health. The owner is someone who has the highest respect of management, customers, and the process team. He or she is selected, usually by management, before process improvement can start. The owner takes charge of the improvement process and maintains leadership until relieved of the responsibility by management.
In the case of a department, ownership is clearly established—it is the manager of the department or manager of sub-processes within the department. However, in business processes that span several functional units, determining the owner is more difficult. Typically there is no current owner for the entire process and he or she may come from the upper management ranks.
The improvement team is typically composed of six to ten people from various functions or departments who are representative of different steps in the process. These are the people who complete the activities in the process. They are responsible for working with the leader and the team. The team will continue to work on process improvements even after major improvements have been made.
There are two methods for selecting team members. Sometimes, the process owner selects his or her own members. Other times, upper management selects various people whom they feel will make important contributions to the team.
Step 2. Define the process to be analyzed and why it was selected
The second step in process improvement is to define or describe the process under study, explain why it was chosen, and state the symptoms of any process problems.
First define the process briefly and clearly in one or two paragraphs, Be sure that you adequately identify the process and describe in a way that is meaningful to others in the organization. Then explain why the process was selected for analysis. List the rationale or reasons for focusing on the process. Some of the reasons to consider:
- Process is most in need of improvement
- Adequate measures are not in place
- Process requirements are not routinely assessed
- Upper management complains about this process
- A new manager has taken over the process
- The process received a poor rating during an external quality or customer audit
- The process is out of date in the face of changes in the business
- Too many work-arounds in the process
Finally, in this step, you list the symptoms of problems associated with the process. While process performance may be as expected, it may not be doing so in the most effective and efficient manner. It is generally helpful if you can quantify the extent of the problems so that you can determine if the solutions you implemented worked.
Some of the symptoms that indicate process problems are:
- Internal and external customer complaints
- Missed deadlines
- Declining productivity
- Poor morale
- Exceding budgets
- Declining customer satisfaction
- Excessive overtime
- High turnover
- Pervasive errors
- Unsatisfactory audits
Step 3: Establish Process Boundaries
The next course of action for the owner and the team is to meet and identify the external boundaries of the process. It is here where you document where the process begins and where the process ends.
For example, a process usually starts when information, parts, or materials are given to someone as inputs. In the payroll check distribution process, the process begins when data processing sends over batches of checks to be distributed. In a hospital, the patient billing process starts when a patient enters the hospital as admitted, in a receiving department, the process starts when materials are unloaded on the receiving dock, and in the purchasing process, the process starts when someone submits a requisition.
Defining boundaries serves to establish the scope of the process improvement effort. Typical problems affecting a process lie at these external boundaries.
(In the next post I will cover identifying key inputs and suppliers, key outputs and customers and documenting the flow of activities in the process.)
Willie Carter began his career as a paint chemist at a Akzo Nobel subsidiary in suburban Chicago where his love for manufacturing began. Over the years his career has taken him to work with numerous SMEs to Fortune 500 companies in assisting them with optimizing their operations and administrative functions through continuous process improvement techniques. Carter is currently serving as president of Quantum Associates, Inc, which specializes in optimizing business processes to minimize costs, accelerate cycle times and improve efficiency. The company’s overarching goal is to help clients do more with less. Carter holds a BA in Chemistry as well as an MBA. He holds certifications as a Lean Sensei, Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence and ISO 9000 Lead Assessor. He is also the author of Process Improvement for Administrative Departments: The Key to Internal Customer Satisfaction.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone – 847-919-6127.