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What is process optimization?

Process optimization is the systematic improvement of workflows and business processes as part of quality management and organizational development.

In many companies, process optimization is also referred to as process innovation and is managed via a continuous improvement process (CIP). Process optimization follows the logic of the so-called PDCA cycle, one of the foundations of quality management according to ISO 9001. The steps “Plan-Do-Check-Act” designate the four phases of process optimization. The PDCA cycle is a central philosophy of ISO 9001. It is not mandatory for an ISO 9001 certification but has proven to be a good methodology.

As part of a quality management system, structured process optimization gives companies competitive advantages in terms of their customer focus, the quality of products and services, and their efficiency. CIP coaches support the optimization of processes and procedures within companies, for example by establishing quality circles or improvement circles.

Tools like the Innolytics® CI-software support companies in process optimization. They support companies in reaching their goals – higher efficiency, higher customer focus, higher innovation capability, lower costs. The software can be tested for six month for up to 15 users. Companies can thus lay the foundations for process optimization within a very short time. More information about the CI-software can be found here.

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Goals of process optimization

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PDCA cycle for process optimization

Process optimization follows the guiding principle of the ISO 9001 standard, according to which companies should permanently improve their processes and procedures. Methods and approaches for this are part of the free quality management training offered by Innolytics® in cooperation with the DICIS Digital Institute.

The goal is to avoid frictional losses, reduce administrative costs, increase customer focus, ensure high-quality products and services, and promote innovation as a competitive differentiator.

The basis for process optimization and a prerequisite for ISO certification is the listing and definition of the most important internal company procedures and processes. Until 2015, the instrument for this was the quality manual, which, however, often proved to be too complex and impractical, especially in the practice of small and medium-sized companies. The ISO 9001:2015 standard, therefore, does not make any explicit specifications about how processes in companies are documented and optimized.

Tools such as the Innolytics® CI-software support companies in process optimization. They help to achieve the goals – higher efficiency, higher customer focus, higher innovation capability, lower costs.

The five principles of process optimization

There are countless methods of process optimization, for example, the Ishikawa diagram – also called cause-effect diagram, the continuous improvement process (CIP), Six Sigma, or Kaizen.  At their core, all these methods are based on five central principles, which are described below.

Process optimization proceeds in five different steps: From process analysis and identification of weak points to idea generation, implementation, and success control. Although the ISO 9001:2015 standard does not specify a standardized procedure for process optimization, these five steps have proven themselves in practice.

  • Principle 1: Carrying out process analyses

In a process analysis, the various building blocks and stages of a process are systematically examined for weaknesses and opportunities for improvement. For process optimization, it is important to precisely understand the interaction between the various building blocks of a process. This is the only way to identify interactions. A process analysis prevents the optimization of one process building block from having a negative impact on the efficiency of another.

Processes are documented as part of the introduction of quality management. In the process optimization phase, companies can draw on existing process documentation or even implemented process management.

The goal of process analysis is to identify weak points that become opportunities and fields of action for process optimization. This is where software for process analysis and continuous improvement (CI-software) can support companies. The result is a list of efficiency problems that prevent the smooth functioning of a process. Viewed positively, these are action areas for process optimization that will lead to an increase in efficiency (better quality, faster throughput times, lower costs, etc.) once this process has been successfully completed.

  • Principle 2: Define and evaluate fields of action for process optimization

Once processes have been analyzed and fields of action derived, the next step is to evaluate them. To do this, the fields of action are first described uniformly. Each field of action is given a title and a brief description. In addition, the underlying problems and their effects are described. A measured value is defined, which is to be optimized. Measured values can be qualitative or quantitative in nature:

  • In the area of production, for example, it can be the number of defective products or the duration of changeover times for production equipment.
  • In the area of human resources, it could be the processing time of job applications, the number of participants in further training courses, or the duration of preparation for personnel interviews.
  • In idea management, for example, this could be the number of newly submitted ideas, the average rating of newly submitted employee ideas, the lead time from submission to successful implementation, and so on.

However, a measured value can also be the subjective satisfaction of employees with a process: Understandability of the process, comprehensibility, and usefulness.

Once the fields of action have been described and measured values defined, they are evaluated by internal teams of experts. Based on the evaluation, a decision is later made as to which processes will be optimized with higher and which with lower priority. Evaluation criteria here are:

  • Need for optimization: How important is it to optimize a particular process in the field of action?
  • Usefulness How great would the economic benefit of a successful process optimization be?
  • Urgency: How urgent is the process optimization? Is it necessary to act quickly?

With the Innolytics® CIP software, fields of action for process optimization can be evaluated quickly and easily. You can test the software for six month free of charge for up to 15 users.

  • Principle 3: Process optimization as a creative challenge

An important success principle of process optimization is to develop concrete ideas for the weak points and fields of action that have been prioritized the highest. The basic question here is: Through which ideas and proposed solutions can a process be optimized in the best possible way? Idea development can be achieved by using creative techniques in an innovation workshop or by using idea management software or innovation management software. The goal is to stimulate the creativity of employees in order to generate the best possible solution for process optimization. Guiding questions can be:

How do you digitize a step completely so that you make the overall process more effective?

How do you integrate process steps so that the overall process becomes more effective?

How do you prioritize individual steps and change the sequence so that the overall process becomes more effective?

How do you automate individual steps so that the overall process becomes more effective?

How do you make steps transparent for all employees so that the overall process becomes more effective?

How do you exchange steps or sub-steps with each other and thus make the overall process more effective?

Idea generation is followed by idea evaluation. For the solution, ideas are evaluated according to the extent to which they are suitable for bringing about a real improvement in the current state. Also, an evaluation of the effort in comparison to the benefit is performed. For this purpose, a tool for idea analysis is available in the Innolytics® CI-software. Systematically, ideas can be evaluated and the best ideas and suggestions can be filtered out.

  • Principle 4: Structured implementation of suggestions for process optimization

Once a decision has been made on the best-proposed solutions for process optimization, a schedule is drawn up. Responsibilities for implementation are assigned. In addition, clear milestones are defined by which certain interim goals are achieved. Typical milestones are:

  • Technical implementation of the solution: Depending on the type of process optimization – within a production, optimization of a digital process, optimization of an existing internal process, optimization of a process involving external parties (e.g., customers) – the solution is initially implemented using simple technical options. Sometimes it is advisable to first create a prototype so that the solution is visible.
  • Testing the solution in a prototypical environment: If it is possible, a solution can first be tested in a selected area (for example, in parts of production) for a limited period of time. The aim here is to test the acceptance of the process optimization among employees and those affected (e.g., customers).
  • Adaptation of the solution: The findings from the prototypical test phase are incorporated into the solution.
  • Final implementation and roll-out: The solution developed for process optimization is rolled out globally. It replaces the existing one.

The prototypical approach is particularly recommended for process optimization that has a major impact. For example, if the aim is to optimize processes through the use of digital technologies, several departments of companies may be affected by a change. Conflicts can also arise with the way customers and clients work. These can be identified and resolved in the prototypical phase. Small process optimizations that can be implemented with limited effort and impact can be implemented without the prototypical phase.

  • Principle 5: Success control

The foundation of process optimization is measuring success. The key performance indicators defined at the beginning are compared with the previously existing values after the introduction of the process optimization. The success of process optimization can be seen, for example, in lower processing times, faster throughput times, higher productivity of individual employees, increased customer satisfaction, and so on.

Software as a support in process optimization

The Innolytics® CI-software helps companies to perform process optimization quickly, easily, and transparently. This is achieved through different modules that can be activated in the software. This makes the CIP software, which is free for six month and up to fifteen users, a perfect tool for process optimization.

The use of software for process optimization has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are several approaches to this:

  • Quality management software and risk management software support process optimization as required by ISO 9001:2015, for example.
  • The Innolytics® CI-software and idea management software helps companies to perform process optimization quickly, easily, and transparently. This is achieved through different modules that can be activated in the software. This makes the CIP software, which is free for six month and up to fifteen users, a perfect tool for process optimization.

It is important that the use of the software is supported by quality management training. Innolytics® has developed free quality management training together with DICIS (Digital Institute for Certification of International Standards).

Modern software as well as appropriate training of employees and managers companies create the conditions for efficient process optimization.

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