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Four elements in Succesful Process Improvements

Have you ever attended endless workshops on reengineering processes without success? Learn about the four elements you have to focus on in order to succeed.
Estimated reading time: 4 min
Have you ever attended endless workshops to reengineer and improve processes? Have you been wondering if the new and improved process would actual make any difference or have you seen big initiatives ending in nothing? Well I have, but I have (luckily) also been part of higly successful business improvements. So what makes the difference? The successful process improvements I have witnessed all have in common that they included four key elements: Process design, System Configuration, People Behavior and Data Migration.

Process Design for Improved Processes

The first key to successfully improve processes is to design robust processes. A robust process has to be simple but yet flexible allowing common sense. Mapping the current processes with the experienced subject matter experts is important, but remember to be critical and ask “Why?” at least 5 times to understand why the current process is as it seems to be. Furthermore remember to ask “How do you do this?”. Often this question will trigger the show up of a number of additional Excel Spread Sheets; spreadsheets that in reality “carry” the executing of the process either by compensating for missing utilisation (or mis-use) of the enterprise systems or for insufficient data views. Another important thing in establishing robust processes is to reduce the number of handovers between departments or competences – these handovers introduce waiting time.  Further whenever possible allow the process to be concurrent instead of sequential whenever possible. Concurrent processes requires workflows instead of only simple statuses, but it will have a significant impact on the lead time. Identify the atomic data objects that are processed repeatedly and implement workflows for these that ensure executions, and clear detailed progress monitoring.

Example of atomic data objects

An engineering change frequently involves several document changes. In many companies the focus from the enterprise PLM system is on the change alone. Ensuring that all documents are reworked, reviewed and approved is at best left to endless spreadsheets list and the approval of the change is more formal – it does not guarantee that all the documents in the change has actually been reviewed. The alternative to this is having concurrent (sub)workflows for each document that give a clear overview of the progress for each document. Furthermore it introduce better flexibility if it is decided that a specific document should be transferred from one change order to another, since this will not have impact on the documents own workflow.

System Customization

No process without a system supporting it. From time to time you hear managers claim that systems must adapt to the designed process while they (or other managers) at the same time requires standard out-of-the-box solutions to reduce total cost of the IT landscape. The truth is something in the middle. Often the enterprise systems is build on recommended dominant processes (often called best-practice). And as long as you can use these processes you really should. However there are two reasons for customizing enterprise systems:
  1. if the company would get major competitive advantage
  2. if the system does not have the sufficient detailed process focus.

Peoples Behavior

The users’ acceptance of the systems has a huge impact on the compliance of the process. In a well designed process and system the users will see the benefits of using the system as designed. The user focus on the high data quality, because it helps them to perform better. If the users does not understand the benefits of the system and or process, they will invent their own practices. This often by skunk excel-sheets or utilizing fields in the enterprise system for other objectives than intended. This leads to bad data quality and missing transparency. KPI’s can drive peoples behavior – for good or for bad. I have seen several examples of high focus on KPI’s on time driving down the focus on quality. However, KPI’s are great for continuous improvement. So pay attention to what KPI’s are defined and how they are used.

Data

All enterprise systems focus on data to direct the physical flows of money and goods and on improving these flows. In the implementation of a new or redesigned system, Data Migration is crucial to the success. Users that experience that information cannot be found in the new system will revert to the old system. Despite the intention they will keep acting according to the  old process. Data and People Behavior is almost a symbiosis – good data drives good behavior and good behavior drives good data.

Conclusion

A single focus on the process or the system seldomly gives succesfull process improvements. Next time you are in a workshop pay attention to Data, Behavior, Systems and Process. If you want to know more about how we work with this fourfold model, please visit this page to read about our approach to PLM work. For more tips and insights, please visit and follow our LinkedIn page, where we from time to time share news and content within PLM, Industry 4.0 and IoT.

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