A process is a series of steps and decisions required to get you from one to the next. Processes are all around us and we participate in many at any given time. For example, making a pot of coffee is a process. Putting the garbage out is a process. Getting dressed in the morning is a process.
Process improvement means making things better. Not just fighting fires or managing crises, it means looking at how we can do our work better. When we engage in process improvement, we are looking to learn what causes things to happen in a process. Using this knowledge, we can reduce variation, remove activities that add no value to the product or service produced, and improve customer satisfaction. To paraphrase James Lawther of The Squawk Point, process improvement is really easy. Processes produce things for customers, who in turn pay for these things, which in turn pay your wages. If you are doing things that a customer wouldn’t be willing to pay for, stop doing them.
How do you know when your processes need improvement? How do you know that they don’t? If you find yourself with customer complaints related to service offerings, related to missed deliveries, related to late deliveries; or related to inconsistent product quality, then you may consider that a review of your current processes is needed. Even if you don’t have customer complaints, the problems may still exist. A sales and marketing professional I once worked with told me that one of the scariest situations of all is the silent customer. You want customers to tell you if things are wrong so that you can respond and make corrections. The silent customer will not tell you when things are wrong – they will simply go away.
Of course, the ideal scenario would be to have issues surfaced in a process review which would allow them to be resolved before they become visible to the customer. Don’t forget that, in this context, no news is not necessarily good news.