Process Improvement

by Rus Slater

Introduction

We all use ‘processes’ in our everyday lives and in our work, whether we are talking about making a cup of tea or processing a mortgage application, serving a customer in a shop or completing the annual appraisals for a team of merchant bankers. Processes abound throughout our working day. Almost all jobs are made up of a series of processes – repeated and repeatable collections of inputs that produce outputs.

Often we don’t think of them as ‘processes’ and, therefore, we often don’t think, formally, about ways to improve our processes.

When we start to think about what we do as a series of processes, we can easily ‘map’ the processes in a visual way that shows the logical flow of inputs (things we do) and outputs (results we create). This helps many people to understand the bigger picture, as well as providing you – the manager – with a very useful way of demonstrating/explaining some really quite complex issues in a really quite simple way.

Many of these processes have been arrived at by evolutionary means and therefore have not been deliberately planned, but are the result of many years of intelligent, considered, but disjointed, thought.

Sometimes our processes have been planned, but they were planned a long time ago and the people, places, technology and customers have changed since the planning was done.

Consequently, many of our day-to-day processes fulfil our needs, but are not necessarily as efficient and effective as they could or should be. As a manager, one of your jobs is to make sure that the processes which you manage are operating well. The better you can make your processes, the better your results will be.

Example

A negotiator in an estate agency decided to find out how far she walked in a day in the office (as opposed to a day of conducting viewings). She was stunned to discover, using a £2.99 step counter, that she walked over 2000 paces in one day just going from her desk to the filing cabinet (for buyer details) to the printer (to collect house details) and back to her desk. The process she used was the same as pretty much every estate agency in the land, but the printer and the filing cabinet were located because that was where there was space or a plug socket, not in relation to her desk and without thought being given to efficiency.

This topic aims to help you to look at your processes with a critical but informed eye so that you can make them more effective.

Tip

Often, people perceive that process mapping is the first step towards finding ways to make them to work harder.

However, if we look at how much ‘product’ is sitting idly in in-trays and WIP areas, it isn’t often that the people need to work harder; it’s that the process can be made smarter.