Thou Shalt Improve Thy Processes
expectations and the business environment change so rapidly
that even efficient processes can become obsolete overnight.
If an organ-ization expects to remain competitive, it must
plan to improve its workplace processes by approximately
10 to 20 percent annually. Continual process improvement--an
initiative that simplifies and/or eliminates steps that
don’t add value to the final product--is perhaps the
best way to meet that challenge. To improve our value-creating
ability, we must improve our value-creating process.
CPI focuses on employee effort to reduce costs associated
with waste, duplication, delays and errors. The process
saves both time and money, but more important, it also encourages
people to think creatively and stay focused.
Management as well as employees must actively seek opportunities
for improvement in every functional area of their organization.
CPI creates the chain reaction in an organization, as
illustrated to the right.
Beginning in 1995, DeLaval, a manufacturer of specialty
chemicals for the food and dairy industry, made tremendous
strides in improving processes through CPI. Employees, voluntarily
seeking process improvement in their work areas, formed
cross-functional and self-directed teams and followed the
10-step improvement-project guideline outlined in this editorial.
Optimal results of completed projects were presented to
senior management at forums three times a year. These companywide
efforts resulted in substantial savings through improved
quality, safety, efficiency, customer satisfaction, waste
elimination and cycle-time reduction.
Here are the CPI 10 commandments:
Define the problem. This is one of the most important steps
of effective problem solving. A problem statement is highly
focused, simply stated and indicates a means for measuring
the solution’s results.
Document your process. Map the current process so it can
be evaluated for bottlenecks, duplications and opportunities.
Also quantify the cost (in both hard and soft dollars) of
the condition and process. Consider the project’s
effect on every component within the organization.
Develop an objective statement. Establish explicit team
expectations that include a clear direction and time frame.
The statement should always be measurable. This enables
the team to recognize if it missed, reached or exceeded
Analyze data. Cause-and-effect analysis is a structural
method for panoramically diagnosing a problem. Use brainstorming
techniques to identify all possible causes and effects.
Concentrate on the root cause, which is often initially
invisible. A Pareto chart can help a team focus on issues
that will add the greatest value, if solved.
Develop several solutions. Team input is very important
during this exercise. Entertain abnormal ideas, silly questions
and odd possibilities, but focus on solutions rather than
problems. At this point, you’re not seeking the root
cause--which you should already know--but rather its effective
Test your solutions. Testing includes running pilot tests,
identifying areas of measurement and analyzing the results.
Include data for cost effectiveness, cycle-time reduction,
quality improvement and process/outcome measures.
Implement the best solution. Compare and evaluate each solution
in terms of cost, value to the customer, return on investment,
implementation time, leadership commitment and required
changes. Select the best two solutions and develop a force-field
analysis for driving and restraining forces. Based on those
results, choose the best solution. It’s also important
to standardize new procedures, operations and activities
that will result. Sell others on the new process. Train
all involved employees in the improved process and continually
Track your progress. Once the optimal solution has been
implemented, it’s important to monitor and fine-tune
the new process. Collect data with run charts, control charts
and Pareto charts.
Document the results. This documentation should include
savings, both in hard and soft dollars, if applicable. In
general, the improved process--which should be flowcharted--will
have greater efficiency, fewer steps and less downtime.
Present the results. This should include an explanation
of how the process improvement creates an ongoing winning
situation for customers, employees and shareholders. Keep
in mind Walter A. Shewhart’s plan-do-check-act cycle.
To remain effective and profitable, businesses must function
more efficiently with less, which they can do if every member
of the organization contributes to upgrading every working
process’s capability. Your company’s economic
health, not to mention its longevity, depends on you.
Harish C. Mehra, Ph.D., is quality manager for DeLaval
in Turlock, California. He also teaches quality and operation
management at California State University, Stanislaus, School
of Business. Send letters to the editor regarding this editorial