Continuous Improvement for Existing Automated Processes

You’ve done the work to prepare and implement your process so you’re good to go and can let them run for the foreseeable future, right? Not so fast!  Processes benefit from continuous improvement to ensure they keep adding value to your organization.  But what needs to be changed, how often should you review your processes, how do you make sure you’re not missing anything?  Consider three things as you look to improve your processes.

Errors: the problems that arise as your process is run.

No matter how much preparation you do there is always a risk that something was missed.  However, these can be addressed, and rectified quickly if you have set up error handling as I discussed in an earlier blog on process considerations.

If you haven’t set up a way to handle errors I highly suggest you do. Regardless of how you decide to handle them, when an error comes up it’s best to address it quickly.  You’ll need to prioritize the following two things to ensure success:

  • Fixing the process
  • Fixing the error

Determine which one takes priority and update it first and then focus in on the secondary item. If your process is mission critical fixing the error will very likely take priority and need to be resolved asap.  Once the individual fire is put out you can then address the process holistically to ensure that the error doesn’t arise again.

This isn’t an ideal situation as you’re opening yourself up to additional errors if the process runs again with the same conditions.  When possible, I recommend addressing the process level problem first and then fixing the specific errors.

Set a review schedule

Once you’ve addressed errors, improvements to your process will typically occur during a review period.  Determine how often you and team will review the process and stick to it.  This doesn’t need to be complicated, as a general rule I suggest tying your review schedule to how often a process is used.  For processes that run every week or more often, review quarterly.  For those that run once every 2 weeks or longer, review annually.

Improvements/Enhancements

Now that you have a plan for how to maintain and fix errors, focusing on where to improve your process is where things get really exciting!  During your review period, there are a number of ways to improve and update your process.  Here are a few key questions I find helpful when looking at continuous process improvement:

What steps are at the processes’ extremes and take the most or the least amount of time?

For those that take the most amount of time, dive into why that’s occurring.  Is the step too complex?  Break it out into smaller chunks.  Are the people tasked with completing the step not suited to do so?  If so, who should handle it?  Have new systems come online that could assist with automating this step?

For those that take the least amount of time look at if they’re truly needed.  Can this step be eliminated because it’s not necessary?  If it is needed, can it be automated?  Often, simple steps have the prerequisite information so that a system can take over on behalf of a person.

Are your goals being met?

Your process should be a means to meet the goals you’ve setup.  I’ve discussed how to define your goals so that you ensure that your processes are meeting them.  Once a process is live you get clarity into if that is actually happening.  Comparing your processes results against the success criteria opens up another opportunity for improvement.

If you’re meeting your goals, can you push them further?  The more a process is run, the more data you have at your fingertips to see where opportunities for further automation and streamlining can occur.

If you’re not meeting your goals, what’s causing the issue?  Were your goals identified correctly?  Is this an opportunity to add further process into your organization to meet a partially solved scenario?  All of these questions will help you focus on your areas for improvement.

Process improvement is an ongoing exercise which continually results in benefits to your team and organization.  By focusing on what has gone wrong in the past, and what can be done better in the future on a given schedule you’re ensuring that your processes are running optimally.  This will result in increased efficiencies for your team, improved ROI for your organization, and shorter cycle times through automation.

If you haven’t already, check out my thoughts around all the prep work needed to successfully implement processes:

Andrew Thiermann

Andrew Thiermann

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