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business process improvement

By Peter SG Carter

What are the techniques used to improve business processes

There are many techniques and methodologies being discussed and used in many ways. These include Lean, Value Stream Mapping, Process Mapping, 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen and DMAIC.  Do they all work? Yes they probably do but only if a number of factors are in place first.

No process improvement and change programme will last longer than the time the consultants are on-site for if there isn’t full commitment to the project from the top down. The project is for the whole organisation, so involve the whole organisation. If the Managing Director is not prepared to change, why should anyone else?

Any project must align itself to the company strategy and have clear goals and objectives. These should be clear and measurable.

The ‘whole process’ must be looked at. If the final sub-process is to move a car in to the paint shop and the paint shop can only handle 5 cars per day, there is little point in having 10 cars per day ready to be painted. This principle applies as much to case work as it does to manufacturing.

Look at processes in terms of how your customers see you. If you model a process and forget about the times you interface with your customer (internal or external) then the perception of efficiency may be no different after the project is completed.

Continuous improvement is an on-going adventure. Yes I have heard a manager say – “Continuous improvement, we did that last year”!

For managers who simply want to cut resources and cost, process improvement projects are not about that. They are about doing things differently, better and more efficiently. In this way you can cut resources and costs, not because you have to, but because you no longer need them.

For managers who want to increase capacity, process improvement projects are not about adding capacity at a cost. They are about doing things differently, better and more efficiently. In this way you will increase capacity, not through added cost but with existing resource which is utilised better.

So a one line explanation of each of the above methods of process improvement as an introduction:


LEAN seeks to say that the faster a process is delivered, the better it will be. Therefore everything you do that is not necessary or causes delay is thought of as waste and should be removed.


Before you start a project identify those processes that deliver the greatest value to your organisation, and prioritise these. In these processes, each activity is given a value relating to cost, time, and elapsed time and so on.


A graphical view of the process, across functional boundaries, where all activities are put together to show the flow. Very often the process map will link to it organisational, data and systems elements to make up the full understanding of what is required, when and by whom.


The objective of 5S is to get the work area (the office) organised. The components originate in Japanese, but are translated to Sort; Straighten; Shine; Standardise; and Sustain.


Defects, re-work and complexity in the process reduces process efficiency. Six Sigma uses data-driven decisions and quality tools to solve these problems


When dramatic intervention is required for short intensive improvement on a targeted process or activity, Kaizen events can be used.


Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control


I recently was asked to deliver a process review by a local authority. The process in question was called ‘stand-by hours’.  This is about happens when a member of the public calls the council when the offices are shut reporting an emergency incident. The process mapping showed the process was very well set up, there were managers on stand-by, there were different types of workers waiting to be called out to clear blocked drains, remove fallen trees and assist council house tenants when there were problems. The process map showed a slick process, little waste and very little inconsistency. However the audit showed that there were hardly ever any calls and very few call outs warranting such a large team earning extra money.

So whilst as a consultant I believe in mapping the process and looking at what takes place, some kind of audit of what is happening is also very important.

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