Continuous and iterative improvement is a journey for every business. As leaders we know we need to improve our quality; we need to do things faster; we need to do things in the most cost-efficient manner; and that is just the tip of the iceberg. How do we begin to tackle and prioritize?
At Celerity we focus on a holistic approach, looking at every organization as a Responsive Enterprise. In this construct we will work with our clients to embrace change to create a competitive advantage. Businesses lead by iteratively evolving capabilities and culture to reimagine business and reinforce resiliency in the face of constant change. So, let’s break that down to the 6 Guiding Principles for Process Optimization.
While both the maturity of the organization and the environmental situation may drive some principles to be addressed before others, there is one principle that always has to be addressed first—Rapidly Assess, Prioritize, and Develop Processes. I.e., you need to ensure you have a solid understanding of your business processes and any gaps that may be constraining performance.
Clearly articulating a future-state vision or improvement objective is strategically important at some point, but you need to be able to define that vision/target relative to your current state. Without a current-state understanding, it would be like having a map with a star for your final destination, but without any information on where you are now (i.e., no “You are here” icon on the map). If you have no idea where you are now, then you have no idea which direction will take you towards your destination.
Establishing the current state of an organization, business unit, product, etc., is an essential first step. Back in the day when Lean concepts originated in manufacturing environments, one of the best ways to understand the current state, understand how something currently functions or performs, was to walk the process and observe (and document) how it is executed (i.e., a Gemba walk). However, businesses have evolved and the majority of our clients operate in exclusively digital/virtual environments or products, or transactional environments, so there is often no physical process to walk through; however, the concept still works. To do a virtual Gemba walk, you may need to watch a loan application being processed on a PC, navigate through a web portal, interview a tech designer to understand the process, or come up with some other creative way to “walk” the process. Observing, describing, and understanding the process allows for a firm understanding of the current state and becomes the standard by which all improvement can be measured and change can be charted.
There are many ways to document a process, depending on the level of information and detail required to understand the problem/opportunity. We will take a deep dive into these techniques and tools in a future insights post, but below is a high-level summary of tools we commonly use (often collectively) to establish the current state:
If you need to understand sequence, logic, and order, then a map is a simple, intuitive, and quick tool. If you also need to understand roles and responsibilities, then add swim lanes (e.g., sections associated with a functional role).
If you need to understand inputs and outputs, performers, stakeholders, systems used, information/data conveyed, then a SIPOC (Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer) is a great tool. One of the single best tools to start an assessment with in my opinion, because it allows you to do a high-level investigation to get fundamental process details, without getting too far into the weeds and getting bogged down at the start.
If you need to understand failure points throughout your process, to quantify the relative severity of these failures, and understand what controls are available/applicable, then an FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) style risk assessment is concise and well structured.
So, we have a solid foundation. What’s next? If the scope of the problem is large and complex, involving multiple processes, then we will need a framework that provides context for the interdependencies and interconnectedness of processes. In these instances, it is necessary to develop a process hierarchy. We will cover process hierarchies in the next blog chapter.
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