Process improvement strategy

Process Improvement Strategy and continuous improvement strategy

The process improvement strategy refers to the vision, goals and set of steps that will enable an organization’s processes to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage by addressing inefficiencies, waste, plant and asset condition, and culture within the process and its stakeholders. The use of a strategic swot analysis can help define this strategy.

The strategy should not only have at its foundation the steps and goals to achieve in order to boost the businesses bottom line but also how employees will be involved and maintained engaged in the continuos process improvement of the operation.

For more on creating and sustaining a continuous process improvement culture, refer to Process improvement culture.

Setting the process improvement strategy

Define the scope or process to improve – When setting the process improvement strategy it is usefull to define the scope of the process, as in many cases to tackle the whole supply chain or process can be difficult and put a great deal of strain on the operation or lean team. Once the scope is defined it is usefull to gauge customer satisfaction with the product range, service, and product quality or defects. These customer side issues highlighted during these discussions can provide focus areas to address first. Employees and production staff are also an excellent source of information and idea brainstorming for areas to improve within the production or service process as they will have an intimate understanding of the plant and process.

Understand the process – In setting the process improvement strategy the operations or lean manufacturing team must first and most importantly understand the process, by process we refer to the value adding chain that commences at raw materials all the way to finish goods. Process analysis and value stream mapping become very handy in this step. The importance of this stage cannot be stressed enough, as decisions and strategies set in place by managers, lean managers/champions, or engineers on lack of understanding can be detrimental to operations and the business. The use of KPI’s and performance measurement tools can be useful in this step to understand the gaps in performance.

Involving the right people – Involving the right people into creating the process improvement strategy is as important as understanding the process in question. It is important for the continuous improvement team to be composed of operations managers, process engineers and professionals but also have a strong presence of floor staff and employees who work directly in the plant or with customers as they will be able to provide very usefull insights and facts about the process. The right choice and balance of people involved in a process improvement initiative will provide greater engagement from the workforce and the motivation to sustain the results achieved at a later date.

Set goals or benchmarks – this is what the team aims to achieve from a continuous process improvement. These can be operational, efficiency, cost or profitability impact goals. In some cases even cultural change goals can be regarded as goals in a continuous improvement environment.

Tasks and steps to achieve goals – The lean or process improvement team should involve as many staff members as possible in setting the required tasks or steps to achieve their goals. It should be similar to a consultation process where every team member and plant/process staff can suggest ideas. Once ideas and data have been collected the lean team should prioritize and classify the improvement ideas and process suggestions in terms of benefit to the customer and to the organization. After prioritization of these the framework that will be used to carry out these improvements will be decide by the lean or process improvement team depending on the resources available and complexity of the process in question. The most common framework for process improvement projects or focussed initiatives is the PDCA cycle.

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