The most effective process improvements have the power to increase quality and productivity while simultaneously cutting costs. Many American businesses have found inspiration from Japanese process-improvement strategies that have resulted in wild success over the last few decades. BP Trends reports that manufacturing techniques employed by the most successful Japanese businesses include reducing wasteful activity, inconsistencies and physical strain; foolproofing processes; fixing problems; rotating workers through various jobs; and encouraging constant improvement.
Brainstorming is a good first step to generate ideas, team involvement and creativity, and to identify problem areas and potential solutions from people directly involved in each business process. Have a facilitator direct the brainstorming session to ensure active participation by all individuals on the team. Do not allow for critique or discussion of the ideas during the brainstorm. The idea is to create a criticism-free environment to allow unhindered creativity. Organize sessions with the goal of seeking specific ways to improve business processes.
It can be difficult for individuals involved in one step of a process to see the big picture enough to know what changes to make toward improving processes. Organize a steering committee to examine and gather data on all processes in your business from beginning to end. For larger and more complex businesses, multiple steering committees may be necessary to monitor all the processes in each department of the business. In order to be effective, a steering committee must have the authority to implement changes within processes based on the data they gather.
Reduce Wasteful Activity
BP Trends reports that many successful Japanese companies employ strategies to reduce wasteful activity, including inconsistencies and physical strain, as a basis for process improvement. Wasteful activity arises in the form of rework to fix mistakes, excessive waiting for others to take action, and unnecessary or overcomplicated process steps. Identify and then reduce or eliminate inconsistencies in execution time, efficiency and customer satisfaction to improve your business processes. Analyze the physical movements required by each worker in a process. Take steps to increase ergonomic comfort and decrease strain to encourage a boost in productivity and satisfaction.
Kaizen: Continuous Process Improvement
The cornerstone of the most effective process-improvement strategies is known in Japan as kaizen, which means continuous process improvement. Kaizen involves constantly making small improvements that have large impacts on process efficiency. BP Trends reports that auto insurance companies used to wait to receive photos of damaged vehicles by mail before processing claims. The companies improved the process by using digital cameras instead of film cameras, which reduced the time involved in the process by two to three days. Seek out small innovations and changes that will have the most dramatic impact on business processes and continue repeating the strategy.
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