Business Process Improvement – Continuous Improvement Cycle

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After you have improved a business process, can you simply relax and move on to the next process? Not if you want to retain the strategic gains you achieved.

Continuous improvement (CI) can seem like a theoretical concept unless you have experience working with business processes. But, this is far from the truth. You should make sure that you do not move too hastily to improving the next process until you have created a CI plan for the process you just finished. Otherwise, you will find that the process works fine for a while. Then you will see it starting to slip backwards a little, then a little more, until it becomes outdated and you are back where you started.

This step is similar to losing weight. If you lost 20 pounds and never weighed yourself again, you will probably find the pounds slowly creeping back. The “maintenance phase” of a business process is just as important as that of a weight loss program.

There is plenty written about continuous improvement and you should think about the four steps in the improvement cycle: (1) evaluate, (2) test, (3) assess, and (4) execute.

Identify what you want to evaluate on a recurring basis – did your customer needs change, are the internal controls still working, or are you measuring the most important items? Try the changes out on a limited basis (test), determine if they worked (assess), and deploy them across the organization if successful (execute).

It helps to identify the following before you leave a process you just improved:

  • the key topics you will evaluate
  • how often you will revisit each topic
  • the time frame when you will revisit topics

For example, you may choose to validate the customer needs every 12 months and plan to conduct that analysis in the second quarter of each year. Putting a plan and schedule in place will help to keep an improved business process at the forefront of your mind and make certain that you routinely look for improvement opportunities.

Developing a continuous improvement plan and schedule is the tenth step to improving the effectiveness, efficiency, and adaptability of your business.

Copyright 2010 Susan Page

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