Process Improvement in Practice

Cassandra Zirbel   •   03.27.2019

Across industries, the average service based team or department experiences a heavy workload. Managers and directors are focused on treading water and keeping customers, internal or external, happy. Key performance indicator measurement is limited to tactical measures only- for example- improving ticket turnaround times, and keeping call and availability metrics strong. The common conundrum for leadership of these areas is shifting their thinking from tactical to strategic. How do you tackle a process improvement initiative and why would you want to?

6 Steps to a Successful Process Improvement Initiative

  1. Involve end users – Considering how busy service departments are, it may be tempting to perform process improvement from a managerial standpoint. Avoid this common trap! Involving an individual responsible for completing the workflow in the following 5 steps will ensure you are reengineering the process with their perspective in mind and will help with adoption of the new workflow.
  2. Map out the Current Workflow- Start with workflows that are burdensome. Heavily manual or highly urgent (drop everything to get this done) workflows are attractive candidates. Work with end users to map out the current workflow, utilizing Microsoft Visio or a similar tool.
  3. Identify Bottlenecks – Review the current workflow map to identify the process step or steps that are inefficient. Focus on steps that require a lot of manual intervention or handoffs between roles.
  4. Identify an Automation Solution Opportunity- This is the step of redesigning the bottleneck part of the workflow. Start by asking these questions: Could an existing technology platform (often ERP or CRM systems) be better leveraged to eliminate manual steps? Is there a technology solution in the market that could help? It is helpful to involve IT resources familiar with your operational applications in these discussions.
  5. Train the New Workflow- Develop a set of guided exercises for end users to walk through in a training environment to learn the new workflow. Utilize the end user involved in the design process as a power user, dedicating some of their time to be available for elbow support when the workflow goes live.
  6. Measure- Develop a key performance indicator related to the workflow to track. This may be as simple as time to complete the workflow or percent accuracy. It may also be related to the outcome of the workflow- a higher claims acceptance rate, for example. Measuring will help your team improve and can also help make the case to justify ROI for future process improvement initiatives.

The short term benefits of a process improvement initiative may seem pretty obvious: efficiency gains, increased productivity and improved KPI values. The less obvious long term benefits, however, should be the most convincing: employee engagement and growth. Improving the most burdensome, manual and cumbersome processes will save your team time. Use that time to give aspiring team members more challenging tasks. Allow them the autonomy to pursue tasks they are more interested in. Maybe it’s joining a task force committee or pursuing a project they are interested in. Happier, more engaged employees with opportunities to grow will yield the greatest benefit to any organization.

Cassandra Zirbel

Business Analyst

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