Even the most successful businesses need to occasionally evaluate and streamline workflows. Regulations change, technologies change, and even customer needs can change. Business process improvement is a way of reviewing current processes and implementing changes in order to reduce bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Here are seven business process improvement techniques and how to use them to drive innovation, avoid stagnation, and achieve your business goals.

What Is Business Process Improvement?

Business process improvement (BPI) is a method of changing existing processes to remove inefficiencies and improve business operations. A process refers to a sequence of activities that contribute to your business goals, and it may be made up of multiple workflows performed by multiple team members.

Sometimes, a new process arises out of trial-and-error, resulting in unnecessary steps and time-consuming manual labor. In other cases, a process involves legacy software or separate data silos that contribute to bottlenecks and redundancies.

Business process improvement is a data-driven way of analyzing existing processes and making changes to better serve your business needs.

This includes techniques like business process mapping — the use of flowcharts to visualize how a process works — and business process automation, or the use of technology to automate repetitive tasks to save time and reduce human error.

7 Business Process Improvement Methodologies

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Business process improvement methodologies come in many different forms, and the right one for you will depend on the type of business process and its complexity. Here are seven popular business process improvement techniques to choose from:

The Kanban Method

You may be familiar with the Kanban method from project management tools like Asana and Trello, both of which use a digital version of a Kanban board to organize project tasks. But the Kanban method originated in Japan in the 1940s and formed the basis of the Toyota Production System (TPS), used to improve efficiency in vehicle production.

The Kanban method’s focus on visualization — using cards to represent the individual tasks in a workflow — makes it ideal for identifying bottlenecks. It also aims to reduce waste and excess inventory by setting limits on “work in process” (WIP), which is “the maximum amount of work allowable for each sprint or period of work.”

Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing is a process improvement methodology that’s closely related to Kanban, and also formed part of the Toyota Production System. While Kanban has been adopted by agile software development teams, lean manufacturing tends to revolve around physical processes, such as assembly line manufacturing.

One key component is value stream mapping, reviewing a process to determine which steps add the most value to a product or are most likely to increase customer satisfaction. Lean manufacturing also includes “just-in-time” production, or letting customer demand drive output and inventory levels.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is another process improvement methodology with roots in manufacturing at American companies like General Electric and Motorola. The Six Sigma methodology uses cause-and-effect diagrams (also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams) to represent a process and identify areas for improvement.

Businesses with an existing process follow the DMAIC technique: 

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Improve
  • Control

Businesses developing a new process use the DMADV method:

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Verify

Continuous Process Improvement

Continuous process improvement is an approach that aims to improve a process or product on an ongoing basis, either incrementally or with a series of “breakthrough” improvements. One approach to continuous improvement is the Kaizen method, a Japanese concept that essentially means “good change.”

Kaizen emphasizes small, incremental changes rather than large changes, and the reduction of muda (waste), mura (overproduction), and muri (overburden).

PDCA

The Deming Cycle, also known as the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) Cycle, is an approach to continuous improvement that can be used alongside other business process improvement methods. It dates back to the early days of quality control, essentially introducing the scientific method into process improvement.

The focus of this technique is on gathering data and checking the outcome of each process change after implementing it. If there’s an issue, find the root cause of the problem and redesign the process. Plan the next iteration, and repeat the process again until you’ve achieved the desired outcome.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

Total quality management (TQM) is all about improving the customer experience, with everyone in the organization playing a role in implementation. While other process improvement initiatives may focus on a specific area, such as reducing waste on the assembly line, TQM considers the entire business environment.

For example, a business practicing TQM may set quality control standards and adjust funding, staffing, and training levels to meet these metrics. TQM requires buy-in from stakeholders at all levels, from human resources to individual product teams.

Business Process Management (BPM)

Business process management is a broader term than business process improvement, since it refers to the way you manage all of your processes, with an eye toward overall efficiency, profitability, and business agility. BPM usually involves using automation to streamline workflows and eliminate redundant or time-consuming tasks.

Another useful tool in BPM is process mapping, or using a workflow chart to visualize your process and remove bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Examples of Business Process Improvement

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What kinds of processes are suitable for business process improvement? In short, any process with discrete tasks and repeatable workflows could be due for improvement — especially as new technologies make digitization and automation easier. Here are four examples of business process improvement in action:

Employee Onboarding

The employee onboarding process is complex and involves everything from filling out forms to completing training and assessments. By automating the employee onboarding process for all workers, you can standardize the process and cut down on paperwork delays, scheduling issues, and errors due to manual data entry.

Leave of Absence Management

Inefficiencies in your leave of absence management process isn’t just a problem for employees who want to take time off from work; it can also present compliance issues for your HR team. When you provide a self-service portal, employees can submit their own leave of absence requests and upload documents safely and securely in the cloud.

ADA Accommodation Requests

The ADA interactive process is a collaborative process that allows employers to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities on a case-by-case basis. You can streamline the return-to-work and ADA interactive process with automation, using flexible, logic-driven workflows to ensure you don’t miss a step.

Claims Management

Tracking workers’ comp and business insurance claims can be an inefficient process for everyone involved. Enhance your claims management process with claim notifications, insurance adjuster communications, and OSHA report generation all in one place. Plus, use custom claims analytics to analyze data and make better business decisions. 

Improve Any Business Process With Pulpstream

Business process improvement: employees happily looking at a laptop

Business process improvement (BPI) refers to a set of practices that help organizations identify problems or inefficiencies in a business process and eliminate or improve them. It includes methodologies such as lean manufacturing and the Kanban method, as well as techniques like process mapping and the Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle.

Organizations can optimize business process management with a no-code platform like Pulpstream, which allows you to digitize and automate processes and create custom workflows without writing a single line of code.

Increase operational efficiency, ensure compliance, and connect data silos using our drag-and-drop interface and intuitive cloud-based platform.

Request a demo to see how you can improve process performance today!