Best process improvement tools

Launching a process improvement initiative can seem daunting if you’re new to the concept. Identifying the processes that aren’t working and finding solutions to them is no easy task — although it’s an important one.

Like any other challenge, it’s much easier when you have the right tools for the job. Here are the best process improvement tools you can implement in your organization to streamline your processes.

Some of these process improvement tools are intended for use within a specific process improvement methodology, while others are agnostic. You can use a combination of these tools to meet the specific needs of your organization.

Best process improvement tools

1. 5 whys

One of the simplest process improvement tools involves asking “why” five times. The goal of this exercise is to figure out the root cause of the problem within the process. The best way to do this is to iteratively ask “why” based on the answer to the previous question. After asking “why” five times, your organization will likely be able to determine what’s causing the issue.

2. Flowcharting

Lean Six Sigma and several other methodologies incorporate flowcharting, which is a helpful way to visually understand specific processes. You can use flowcharting to break down each step of a process as well as to understand the logic of the sequence or the logic of the relationships between specific steps.

This is an excellent tool to use at the beginning of a process improvement initiative, when you’re trying to determine where the process isn’t working. Flowcharting is also a good way to communicate the process to others or clarify specific steps of the process.

3. Process baselining

Baselining is one of the most helpful process improvement tools for organizations to assess their current performance compared to other organizations. As a part of baselining, your organization considers its current performance for specific processes in relation to the current performance of other similar organizations.

You then make comparisons to understand your organization’s specific shortfalls. It’s also important to determine the reasons for the shortfalls so you can more effectively find a solution to improve your company’s baseline.

4. Value stream mapping

The manufacturing industry frequently uses value stream mapping, which is a visual representation of the flow of information and materials. It looks at a process from end to end and includes both a current-state map and a future-state map. Your organization can employ value stream mapping to identify waste within processes and specific areas for improvement.

5. Hypothesis testing

If you have a background in science, you’ll be very familiar with hypotheses. In process improvement, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma typically use hypothesis testing during the analysis stage. Essentially, you collect data about a process before and after making changes in order to gauge the level of improvement. The goal is to determine whether the improvements are random or due to the changes you made to the process.

6. Cause and effect analysis

Cause and effect analysis is one of the most helpful process improvement tools. Sometimes people refer to it as CEDAC, which stands for “cause and effect diagram with the addition of cards.” This process improvement tool is useful when your goal is to increase productivity or to improve product quality. Any organization in any industry can incorporate this tool to determine why specific processes aren’t working.

7. SIPOC analysis

While the manufacturing industry often uses SIPOC analysis, it may also apply to other industries. It’s a beneficial way for an organization to gather data and other information for a specific process or project.

The acronym SIPOC stands for “supplier, input, process, output, customer” and delineates the categories of necessary information. If your organization is dealing with a project that it hasn’t properly scoped, SIPOC can help clarify details.

8. Thought showers

Any kind of organization in any industry, regardless of the process improvement methodology it’s using, can employ this process improvement tool. A thought shower is similar to a brainstorming session, but it’s more spontaneous.

While trying to come up with a solution to a problem, your team suggests potential ideas — and recognizes all ideas without any criticism or judgment. Once the thought shower is complete, the team then evaluates each idea as a viable way to improve the process.

9. Business process maps

Business process maps (BPM) look similar to workflows, so people often confuse them with one another. However, a business process map is actually far more detailed than a workflow diagram and includes more information, such as the direction of information flow, the number of users, the types of events within a process, and the number of instances of each event. Business process maps can help your organization clearly outline both old and new processes.

Remember, you can use any process improvement tool to suit your organization’s needs, regardless of your process improvement methodology. The purpose of these tools is to make process improvement easier and more effective — and to eliminate potential hurdles facing your organization while problem solving.

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