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7 Process Improvement Methodologies for Businesses

Learn 7 strategies for improving processes at your organization to boost productivity, increase revenue, drive innovation and gain a competitive advantage.


By ActivTrak

Two arrows pointing in different directions with the words ‘old way’ and ‘new way’ to symbolize process improvement.

How would you like to streamline operations, reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction — all at the same time? This is exactly what process improvement is for. 

Process improvement is essential for any business looking to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive landscape. In this article, we’ll examine what it is, why it matters and how it works to help you start using this important practice today.

What is process improvement?

Process improvement focuses on making systematic changes to existing processes to achieve better results. It involves regularly evaluating workflows, identifying areas for improvement and making and testing changes. Businesses use process improvement to increase productivity and increase efficiency. Continuously monitoring and adjusting processes empowers you to identify bottlenecks, eliminate inefficiencies and drive more innovation.

Why is process improvement important? 

Every aspect of your business is powered by some sort of process. IT has a process for addressing help desk tickets. HR has a process for onboarding employees. Managers have processes for planning projects and distributing work. Over time, these workflows get clunky if people add too many steps or add unnecessary complications. 

Process improvement helps prevent this from happening. It empowers teams to increase efficiency by removing inessential steps. This, in turn, leads to cost savings and improved profitability. 

7 process improvement methodologies

You have numerous options for evaluating workflows and identifying problems. But you don’t need to use them all. Instead, select one or two that work best for your organization, or try a few different methods to see what sticks. The key is to choose a methodology that’s easy to repeat, simple to scale and likely to become part of day-to-day operations.

1. Start small and scale with PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

The PDCA cycle is a multi-step method named for its four parts: plan, do, check and act. First, identify a problem and build a plan to solve it (plan). Next, implement the plan on a small scale to test how well it works (do). Then measure the impact of those changes (check) and decide if you want to roll them out to more departments on a larger scale (act).

2. Improve processes gradually with Kaizen

Kaizen is a Japanese concept that focuses on continuous, ongoing improvements. The goal is to create a company culture where all employees and teams — from executive staff to hourly workers — regularly tweak processes as a best practice, resulting in an environment where productivity naturally thrives as an extension of constant, small changes. Putting this process improvement technique to work is often as simple as encouraging employees to look for opportunities for improvement — and empowering them to try different solutions.

3. Focus on the customer with TQM

With total quality management, or TQM, you focus on improving the customer experience. When a business uses the TQM method, the organization puts customers at the center of every step — each task, workflow and interaction is optimized to ensure the best possible experience. This method is usually a good option for customer-facing teams such as marketing, sales and call centers. It’s also a way for companies to use data to guide decisions, since customer satisfaction metrics show if a process change is effective.

4. Eliminate bottlenecks with the Theory of Constraints 

The Theory of Constraints focuses on finding and eliminating bottlenecks. To use this method, start by looking for the biggest limiting factor — the constraint — standing in the way of a more efficient process. Then work to remove it. Repeat this formula as many times as needed until the procedure is as seamless as possible. The Theory of Constraints is a good option for processes you need to optimize quickly. However, since you’ll be making changes fast, it’s important to use workforce analytics or other objective data to ensure you achieve the intended results.

5. Play the long game with 5S

5S is a five-part methodology for creating an uncluttered, streamlined work environment. Each component is named after a Japanese word. It starts with seiri, or sorting, to identify unnecessary steps in your process. Next comes seiton, which means to straighten or set in order, and seisō, which refers to inspecting and perfecting those steps until they “shine.” You then move on to seiketsu, or standardizing, to create guidelines for future procedures. Last comes shitsuke, where you focus on sustaining those changes over time.

6. Keep projects flowing with Kanban

The Kanban system stems from another Japanese word that directly translates to "visual card." This methodology is a great option for improving daily workflows since it provides visual cues that prompt team members to take immediate action and keep projects on track. Start by creating a Kanban card for each task, then arrange those cards into columns or “swimlanes.” Employees move cards as they complete tasks. This provides full visibility into all aspects of the project and makes it easy to follow progress in real time.

7. Remove guesswork with workforce analytics

For a more data-driven approach to process improvement, rely on workforce analytics through a solution like ActivTrak. By regularly tracking employee performance, you learn exactly where, when and how people do their best work. Many successful companies also apply these insights to the methodologies mentioned above for greater accuracy. Some monitor employee activity to understand how process changes impact productivity. Others rely on workforce planning dashboards to uncover bottlenecks that would otherwise fly under the radar. And because workforce analytics software automatically collects and delivers data in visual dashboards, this strategy simplifies overall process improvement.

Examples of process improvement 

So, what does process improvement look like in practice? The methodologies above are most effective when used to improve employee productivity, increase engagement and make operations more efficient. For example:

  • Use the PDCA cycle to test ideas for helping two teams, such as sales and marketing, rally around a common goal. Then apply successful changes more broadly for organization-wide cross-departmental collaboration.
  • Apply the Kaizen method to help employees determine how, where and when they work best — whether that means trying different work locations or testing a four-day workweek.
  • Turn to TQM to unite multiple teams around the launch of a new product or service, ensuring each marketing campaign, sales call and call center interaction is primed for a positive customer experience.
  • Apply the Theory of Constraints to eliminate distractions, minimize time-consuming meetings and identify other quick ways to improve employee productivity.
  • Use the 5S methodology to guide employee experience investment decisions that increase revenue, improve retention and result in more satisfied customers.
  • Create a Kanban board to prioritize tasks and distribute workloads based on team capacity.

Gain deep insight into your processes with ActivTrak

Ready to improve your organization’s processes for greater efficiency and ROI? ActivTrak’s workforce analytics software provides the exact insights you need to identify opportunities for improvement, test changes and monitor daily activity to ensure each process runs as efficiently as possible — day in and day out. 

Request a demo for a guided tour of the best ways to improve processes at your organization.

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