The Seven Deadly Sins of Process Improvement

Processes determine the success or failure of a business. Even great businesses can suffer from even just one or two bad processes within the organization. Bad processes can serve as a poison to your business that can create a money pit where both time and money are lost if it is not identified and tended to.

As I see it for process improvement there are seven common flaws, sins if you wish, that I have identified as the deadliest to an organization and its process change initiatives. These seven sins serve as the biggest roadblock to any process improvement efforts and should be dealt with before they poison the rest of your organization.

1. Assuming you already know the process

The most common problem that higher-level executives in particular have is assuming that they already know the process or at least an overview of the process. However, more often than not these perceived notions of what the process looks like or even ideally how the process should perform are far from what is actually happening.

Traditionally, when process consultants were employed it would be found that one worker would do the process one way and the worker in the next cubicle over would be doing it a completely different way. Each worker may be getting accurate results, so from a higher-level view there is seemingly nothing wrong. However, when slack, downtime, and rework get factored in there may be major red flags in these varying processes.

When you assume that you already know the process you are turning a blind eye to the actual execution of the business’s processes. When you do make the next step to understand your process make sure that you don’t fall into Process Improvement Sin #2.

2. Only checking on the process once it’s gone wrong

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about something until it has gone wrong and need to fix it or even until we face repercussions for something that has gone wrong. Waiting for the glaring red indication that something has gone wrong is the way that many businesses deal with these types of process errors. This is a very reactive way to do business and businesses like this typically end up floundering when a problem finally surfaces. In modern business these practices no longer endure, and businesses need to move towards more proactive methods. Opportunities for improvement are always there, even when there isn’t an apparent problem. It’s important to identify these opportunities for improvement sooner and create a culture of continuous improvement where processes are continuously improved for faster turnaround, increased accuracy, and decreased costs.

3. Using paper to record your processes

One of the most common reasons why companies are unable to experience the benefits of process improvement is because there is no accurate record of the process in the first place. Many organizations keep their processes recorded in a binder or in a BPMN file buried in folders on their desktop. Processes evolve in ways that we don’t necessarily expect. Typically, these paper-bound processes are outdated by the time they are printed and referenced which puts you back to square one.

Without an accurate record of the process there is no one source of the truth that can be referenced to improve your process. We’re living in a digital age so it’s time that your process documentation moves along digitally as well. With the amount of event data that is stored there is no reason that you shouldn’t be using your data to help guide your process discovery, no stopwatches or surveys required.

4. Not letting your data work for you

Almost every organization is sitting on piles of data. Data storage is cheap and there is tons of event log data that has answers to all of your questions just waiting to be explored. This data can be used to help you in guiding your process improvement efforts. There’s no need to employ a data expert to manually go through this data either; although I highly recommend one, who can assist. With process mining technology this data can be uploaded into an easy to use software solution that takes away the guesswork. One solution I like very much for its ease of use and no coding platform is TimelinePI. With Timeline Analysis your data can finally be put to work to help you discover the process insights needed for process improvement with just the click of the mouse. This can be used to help find bottlenecks, discover how your process are actually working, and answer your questions to how your process performs all in an easy to use, point-and-click interface.

5. Disjointed processes that don’t go together

Process improvement aims to create the most efficient, smoothest process with the highest accuracy and speed. Process improvement goes across the entire process and not just along one worker or department. It is typically these handoffs between departments or even just workers that becomes the single leading causes to process waste. This is because the outputs have not been designed to match the inputs of the next step. Even more commonly the handoff becomes piled up and creates a bottleneck to the process.

When processes are disjointed throughout different departments and do not match up perfectly this can cause a lot of delay and rework. When going through process improvement it is important to find these bottlenecks and use process reengineering to overhaul the process in order to create smoother processes with less rework and waiting.

6. Being stuck in old ways

“We can’t do it that way”, or “We’ve always done it this way.”  I’m sure that you have probably heard these a few times as you have tried to make changes in the past. People stuck in old ways are one of the most detrimental to process improvement and is one of the hardest roadblocks to overcome. Process improvement requires everyone on board because of the cyclical nature of how we perform work. If there is just one person who stays within the old way this broken process can get passed on to new workers, create bottlenecks due to varying outputs, and cause other problems downstream in your organization. It is important to make sure that the new process is being followed across the workforce.

By using monitoring capabilities like that from TimelinePI, you can ensure that the new processes are being followed throughout the workforce. You can easily get alerted when there is variation or any other indicators that you would like to be notified about such as an amount of time on one event, an amount of time before a due date, a KPI, and more.

Sometimes these people stuck in old ways need some additional swaying. You may know that the new process is more efficient, but how do you convince them too? Let the data speak for you. By using your data, you can do complex side by side analysis to compare different processes, their costs, the time it takes, and more. By using this data, it becomes a simple way to prove that the new process is in fact working or maybe find it is not performing how you think it is.

An example below is shown for a credit card onboarding process that has implemented a new process change. The current set has been filtered to the pre implementation data and is compared against the post implementation data. 

By having side by side analysis, you are able to easily view the differences in the processes before and after a change. In this process you can see in the highlighted sections there was a drastic decrease in both the time and the money used in this process. This is a comparison that you can easily show to anyone whether they are on the shop floor, or in the boardroom, to easily explain how your process is changing.

7. Putting a band aid on a broken process

Sometimes the root cause of a problem is larger than we expected. Some processes cannot just be guided onto a seemingly happy path and instead require an entire overhaul with process reengineering. Many businesses will simply try and standardize broken processes or automate them to go faster. Neither one of these are guaranteed solutions and may make the situation worse. It’s important to have a full understanding of your process so that you can identify where processes really need some extra attention and changes. The goal of process improvement is long term success and not one that will need to be modified in weeks or months to come.

About the author

Alexis Meals is a rising business analytics star and a recent graduate of Widener University where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Analytics. Alexis is a passionate learner and is continuing to grow her knowledge in various data science concentrations and trends through conferences and mentor-ship through industry leaders. She is starting her career at Capital One in the Analyst Development Program.

June 11, 2019