Is It Time to Clean Up Your Process Improvement?

spring cleaning process improvements
20 February 2018

Spring cleaning is not just a good practice for around the house. The spring cleaning philosophy may also be beneficial to your workplace. Even the most successful and high-functioning organisations look for ways they can improve. In fact, a commitment to continuous improvement is often the reason they are so successful.

Going paperless and reducing waste. Increasing employee satisfaction and retention. Focusing on accuracy in reporting. Eliminating refiling. These are the kinds of enterprisewide goals that are rooted in process improvement.

What is process improvement?

Business process improvement (BPI) is a strategic planning methodology aimed at maximizing procedures and people. It starts by identifying individual operations and/or employee skills that could be improved to help create more efficient workflow and contribute to company growth.

Process improvement requires a holistic view, as real transformation is rarely based on a single point in the process—even if there is a perceived bottleneck at a particular stage. True process improvement is most often the combination of optimising multiple systems and procedures across departments.

How can you make process improvement a priority?

As with any deep clean, process improvement starts by taking a step back and looking at the big picture. What is the current state of the reporting process? Were there missed deadlines? Did anyone have to ask for extensions? How many times did someone have to ask for the most up-do-date version of a file?

After an honest and realistic self-evaluation, consider how you can turn traditional spring cleaning activities into a process improvement plan for your organisation. Here are few tips to get started:

Eliminate excess
It is time to clean out the closets and take stock of everything you own. For process owners, it might reveal bad work habits that may have been forgotten, ignored or hiding away for years.

With process improvement, bad habits may simply be what most people consider business as usual. Those practices that were there before you and that have never been questioned. Whether due to complacency or lack of transparency, it still ultimately leads to inefficiency: Time-consuming extra steps. Multiple files and formats. Inaccessible, even inaccurate data.

For an example of process improvement, consider this case of a customer's financial statement close. To identify inefficiencies, the first step we took was to have all those involved evaluate what they received at the gather stage against what was actually required. Process owners reviewed the information collected and identified the extraneous elements. They uncovered an excess of elements in the files—many of which were not required.

Data gatherers connected with data providers and clearly articulated the essential inputs to their processes. This chain of reaching back happened at every microlevel throughout the entire macroprocess. What they uncovered together was that additions to data continued to be bolted on as the process evolved, but elements that were no longer necessary were never communicated with the data providers. As a result, the share stage continued to expand with unused inputs being produced, sorted through and discarded.

Next step: Learn how to better define and implement process improvement with this white paper.


Brush up on your networking skills
Creating change across your organisation can be a daunting task. Fortunately, you don't have to go it alone. Talk to others who have modernised their reporting processes or instituted other forms of office automation.

  • Build your network with professionals who are responsible for process improvement. Hint—look for titles such as Director of Operational Excellence, Chief Transformation Officer or Continuous Improvement Manager.
  • Attend webinars and seminars focused on process improvement, operational excellence and digital transformation.
  • Consider joining groups such as Process Excellence Network (PEX) or LinkedIn groups focused on process improvement.
  • Start a committee at work and encourage multilevel participation, from those who will be developing and implementing the new processes to those who will be responsible for carrying them out every day.

Next step: Look for people who embody the eight habits of highly effective process leaders.


Clean up your language
When it comes to sharing your plans for process improvement with your coworkers, it is important to talk about the improvement more than the process.

Process improvement has its own vocabulary: operational excellence, digital transformation, continuous improvement. Unfortunately, process improvement can often be misinterpreted as disruption or change.

While you may be using BPI jargon in meetings and in your research, you will want to present it to your own team in a way they will understand and appreciate.

Avoid terms that sound like industry buzzwords or could indicate extra work. Turn "process standardisation" or "automation" into business outcomes like "higher quality" and "improved efficiency." Use examples that relate to the outcomes, such as: If we lower direct costs this year, you will see a higher bonus. With the right motivation and buy-in, your team may even come to you with ideas to improve the processes, knowing that they will see the gains.

Similarly, avoid discussing ERM, BPMS or document management system (DMS) technologies, and simply introduce them as new tools to make their position more fulfilling, help them reach their goals for the quarter or year and make the business more competitive.

Remember what your team is thinking: What's in it for me? Focus on how it will help make jobs easier, improve work-life balance and help advance careers.

Next step: Read this PEX how-to guide for getting people excited about change.


Freshen your technology
Tools change. They get stronger, faster, more flexible, easier to use. Spring cleaning isn't only about subtraction. Sometimes adding new technology to your process can eliminate multiple inefficiencies at once.

A large part of process improvement is based on automating repetitive, redundant low-value tasks and freeing up time for analysis and decision-making. For financial reporting, this can mean less time spent gathering numbers, fewer spreadsheets to manage and more granular control over content and contributors.

Evaluate your current reporting technology:

  • Is it cloud-based?
  • Is it scalable?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Does it allow you to share data across the enterprise?
  • Can you set permissions for different user groups?
  • Will it integrate with existing systems?
  • Do you need to contact IT when you want to update the system or create a new report?
  • Does it have strong customer support available?

Gather input from your reporting team as well, with a brief survey or an internal focus group. Or, go a step further and job shadow contributors during the creation of a new sample report. See firsthand how each person operates and how you can improve the team's experience.

Next step: Start researching reporting technologies with Gartner Peer Insights reviews.

Get started on your process improvement plan

Remember all those goals established during your annual or quarterly planning sessions? Spring is the perfect time to check your preparedness—or evaluate your progress—before Q2 begins. It might also be an opportunity to reconsider your organisation's reporting process and how to use technology to improve enterprisewide efficiency, accuracy and collaboration.

For a deeper dive into process improvement, download our Practical Guide to Process Improvement.