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Process Improvement: The Methods Behind the Methodologies

Whether personal or professional, reflection and review contribute to beneficial discovery and future growth. Taking a moment to examine current functionality and appropriateness in comparison to desired goals and objectives helps with perspective and empowerment.

Process improvement methodologies fit businesses, industries, leadership, employees, and environments very differently. Whether sensitive to the people, driven by data, or concerned with minimizing cost, effort, and error, businesses must incorporate the method that best encompasses their culture and personality. Fortunately, there are multiple versions and effective practices to choose from…and they do each have their own ‘personality’. 

The Rise of Improvement Methodologies

The 1900’s saw creation of business process improvement methodologies. Their popularity increased in the early 1990’s, when the term ‘ERP’, or Enterprise Resource Planning was coined. By the end of the 1990’s, businesses were aware of ERP, and the evolution of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) was starting to occur. 

Today, process improvement methodologies span across industries from manufacturing, to healthcare, to finance, and beyond. One group of techniques has a foundation that focuses on existing processes and ways to enhance what is already in place, in order to achieve better results. In contrast, other successful methodologies focus on company culture and assuring that the overall mindset is in the right place to facilitate process improvement. A general overview of each group provides a viewpoint on whether one or a combination of both may help put your company on a well-balanced trajectory.  

Objective Process Improvement Initiatives

There are several business process improvement methodologies that focus on operations and the functionality between productivity, waste management, and minimizing errors.  

Six Sigma focuses on data and statistics aiming for less than 3.4 defects in every million chances for one. Based upon the ranking in karate, the Six Sigma process ‘awards belts’ to its users. Starting with green and gaining skill and knowledge to earn black, Six Sigma centers employees and practices around two methods of achieving process improvement: DMADV and DMAIC. 

DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, verify) 

  • Define the goal of the process while meeting the needs of the customers and maintaining company strategy  
  • Measure and identify factors that are critical to quality (CTQs) 
  • Analyze, identify, conceptualize, design, and evaluate alternatives and options for development within the business sector 
  • Design a plan by creating and prioritizing the stages needed to launch it 
  • Verify that the design is meeting the goals of stakeholders and customers. Oftentimes at this stage, pilot and production runs are used to verify quality and ability for implementation.

DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control):

  • Define the project goal
  • Measure the effectiveness of the process in place  
  • Analyze to uncover deficits and root causes 
  • Improve the process by reviewing and implementing your findings 
  • Control the upgraded systems as well as those in the future, and correct any defects to prevent future issues  

Lean Manufacturing: Just as the name suggests, Lean Manufacturing focuses on processes that are trim and slim and that minimize waste without impacting productivity. Lean Manufacturing pays attention to whether a process adds value to the company’s value stream, whether it is a product fulfilment or service that is provided. A product fulfilment or service action identified that doesn’t add value is considered waste. Waste can include overproduction, excess inventory, and defects. 

Lean Six Sigma: As you can glean from the name, this approach is a combination of lean and six sigma methodologies. Utilizing DMAIC and value stream evaluation, this process  is evaluated in a SIPOC mapping system (supplier, inputs, process, outputs, and customer). This process map gives an overview of the entire Six Sigma project, and seeks to identify efficiencies and eliminate waste.   

Total Quality Management (TQM): – This is the ‘one love’ of methodologies. Quality based on customer satisfaction is the focus here and all efforts are company-wide – and measured. TQM companies take the time to inform their team of the initiative and the company mindset as it relates to quality. Always looking for a way to have the competitive edge while being practical and effective, performance is monitored to identify any variances. Customer feedback and reviews indicate the quality measure. 

The Theory of Constraints (TOC): Focused on identifying the barriers of achieving a goal, TOC is the ‘evaluator’. Once identified, the barrier is put through a process to improve or relieve it, thus removing any limits. Five steps are used in this process: identify the restriction, determine a plan to remedy it, lower the ranking of everything else to encourage full focus on the limitation at hand, improve upon the performance of it, and repeat as necessary. 

Cultural Improvement Methodologies

Just as there are methodologies that focus on the production, streamlining, and waste management side of business process improvement, there are others that encourage perspective from within.  

Kaizen: This approach focuses on learning from mistakes. Kaizen appreciates the concept that continuous improvement stems from minor changes in scope of work and overall corporate culture. From there, errors are evaluated to prevent them from happening again, rather than criticizing for making them in the first place. 

5S: Abbreviated for its five main steps of: sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain, the 5S model stems from the approaches of Lean and Kaizen. It promotes consistency and standardization within the realms of process improvement. 5S promotes the adage ‘everything has a place and everything in its place’. 

PDCA: This is the Plan – Do – Check – Act methodology. Simply put, a business identifies the problem (planning), generates and puts a solution into place (doing), finds and evaluates the efforts made (checking), and upon determining if the plan was successful, will implement the changes (acting). 

Supporting Your Goals

A guide to the processes best suited for companies, these tried-and-true methodologies are helpful in gaining comfort and traction regarding your own business. Having been perfected over several decades, they continue to offer needed information, while supporting current efforts in appropriateness and augmentation. The end goal is to effectively fulfill future initiatives and directives and grow your business. 

Having a solid methodology in place contributes to financial success, employee satisfaction, organization of teams and processes, and streamlining within the work environment.  



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