As leaders, we focus much of our attention on getting things done, on the who, what, when, where and how of our work.  Sadly, we don’t spend enough time asking why.  WHY are we doing what we are doing. WHY is the question that is often overlooked in our effort to make sales goals, finish production runs, and meet profit targets. But, WHY is the key driver of business growth and here’s why.

Process improvement is the systematic analysis of the way we do business aimed at streamlining and enhancing operations.  Process improvement methods range from the simple to the complex but each one focuses on identifying, evaluating, and increasing operational efficiency.  In this post, I’ll provide a starting point for process improvement by looking at one common method.

When was the last time you asked yourself the question WHY at every step in a process?  Having recently completed a process improvement project for a non-profit organization, I can tell you that this simple three letter word, WHY, has enormous value.

When you ask the question why, you might hear:

  • because we have always done it that way
  • no one ever asked
  • that is how I was trained
  • I don’t know
  • or even, why not

If you get these answers, then it is time to consider analyzing your workflows.

Results Pay Dividends

Although process evaluation is time consuming and disrupts the daily routine, the results will quickly pay dividends.  Your organization will enjoy not only bottom line increases through increased throughput, reduced processing time, and decreased error rates, but also positive cultural shifts such as enhanced employee engagement and higher goal achievement.

At the non-profit, our process evaluation enabled us to:

  • identify and eliminate duplicate efforts
  • remove security risks
  • improve technology utilization
  • reduce excess processing
  • create operational efficiency

Start with this Simple Method

The easiest method for analyzing processes is a Value Add/Non-Value Add chart.  Simply list every step in the process and code each one as Value Add (VA) or Non-Value Add (NVA).  Value Add steps move the process forward, while Non-Value Add steps take time but do not add measureable value.

Here are the 7 types of waste that could be hiding in the NVA process steps:

  1. Transportation: Movement of materials, products, or services
  2. Motion: Movement that does not add value to the product or service
  3. Waiting or Delays: Idle time in the process while waiting for materials, information, or the next process step
  4. Inventory: Excess supplies or materials requiring storage that are not needed at this time
  5. Over Production: Producing more or sooner than needed
  6. Defects: Doing work incorrectly or reworking a product or service to meet customers’ requirements]
  7. Over Processing: Extra steps in the process that are not necessary to the final product or service

For each NVA item identified, ask if it is possible to eliminate, streamline, or simplify the step.  The goal in this review is to remove as much waste as possible from the process.  Once the process evaluation is complete, implement and test the revised process thoroughly to make sure you get the results you anticipate, update processs documentation and training, and put measures in place to maintain the gains.

Process Improvement Timetable

You might be wondering when an organization should evaluate processes.  While process improvement has no specific timetable, operational, functional, or staffing changes are ideal triggers.  Begin by taking a step back and asking WHY when reviewing the processes, practices, and procedures that have been in place for months, years, or decades.  Evaluating the workflow before developing job descriptions, skill requirements, staffing, and training will be time well spent.

The next time you ask WHY, you will be rewarded with answers that make sense and cents!