What Is Process Improvement?

Malcolm Tatum

Process improvement is a strategy that is considered a basic in the task of organizational development or OD. The strategy involves the careful evaluation of a process that is currently in use and determine what steps are needed in order to enhance the efficiency and productivity of that process. When successful, process improvement will provide the benefits of eliminating waste of tangible and intangible assets, increasing productivity, and allowing the company to move closer to achieving its goals.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

The general approach to process improvement involves beginning a detailed assessment of a current process used within the operation of a business. As part of the assessment, each step in the process is analyzed in terms of the contribution that the step makes to the overall sequence of actions taken. When there is some belief that the step can be adapted in some manner to enhance its value to the process, running simulations to determine how those changes will affect the overall course of action normally takes place. Assuming the outcome of the simulations are desirable, the change can be implemented and the overall process is considered to be improved or enhanced.

It is important to remember that process improvement requires that some type of value is added as a result of any changes in the series of actions related to a given process. This means that process improvement is not an exercise designed to make changes simply for the sake of change. In order to be truly effective, this strategy must produce some sort of measurable improvement in the process, even if that improvement is extremely small. For this reason, projecting the outcome of making changes in the steps or actions involved is essential. Without making those projections, the potential for either accomplishing nothing or even undermining a process with those changes could occur.

Use of process improvement is always ongoing. This is because changing or adapting steps in a process is often necessary due to innovations in technology, changes in the needs and wants of consumers, compliance with new laws and regulations that impact the operation, or even shifts in the general economy. Processes that produced excellent returns in years past may become outmoded, making it necessary to review and make changes when and as necessary. For this reason, managers and others responsible for the ongoing use of any process will often take the time to review and refine that process when the need arises.

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