Process Improvement

by Rus Slater

Testing a new process

After you have analysed your existing process and planned out a better way of doing something, you are going to have to dip your toe in the water of reality and make sure that it works!

Walk the process

Before going all the way, you can ‘walk your process’. Get the team to physically travel the length of the new process, carrying out the activities and decisions in sequence and genuinely transforming the raw materials and the inputs into the real output. It doesn’t matter whether the process is making a tangible product or providing a service to a consumer; you can simulate it. This will either show up errors and omissions or it will ‘prove’ your plan as viable... in theory.

Run a trial

Next, you need to trial the new process in the real world.

You can use this as an opportunity to generate goodwill and publicity for your commitment to continuous improvement by announcing a trial period, warning customers of a new methodology and actively seeking feedback to help you to improve your product or service.

If the trial only involves a part of the overall process, you will need to ensure that there is no detrimental impact on any other part of the process that is still running the unchanged aspects.

Example

The army wanted to introduce a new parachute but were reluctant to commit all at once, so they tried out a new ‘chute with just one battalion. Sadly, no one noticed that though the new ‘chute was lighter than its predecessor, it was very marginally larger when packed. This became apparent when the new ‘chutes wouldn’t come out of the old packs, leaving several paratroopers being towed behind aircraft flying at 3000 feet and 500 miles an hour!

When you trial, you need to have regular reviews of the new process events and ensure that everyone adheres to the new process rigidly.

If all goes well, you can announce your resounding success at improving things and celebrate. If it doesn’t all go well, you can seek the feedback from the process, the team and the customers.

Example

In Amsterdam, the tiles underneath Schipol’s urinals would pass inspection in an operating room. But nobody notices. What everybody does notice is that each urinal has a fly in it.

Look harder, and fly turns into the black outline of a fly, etched into the porcelain. It improves the aim. If a man sees a fly, he aims at it. Fly-in-urinal research found that etchings reduce spillage by 80 per cent. It gives a guy something to think about. That’s the perfect example of process control.

By inserting the fly, the ‘spillage’ is reduced by 80 per cent:

  • Reduced ‘spillage’ means less regular and less intensive cleaning
  • Less regular cleaning releases the cleaner to other tasks
  • Less intensive cleaning uses fewer chemicals and tools...

Result? Massive process improvement!

And this is an example of a proposed improvement that would need testing to find out if it really was going to work.