Process Improvement Paths

When it comes to processes, W. Edwards Deming stated that there are only two choices: execute the process or improve the process. When it comes to improving a process we have three basic paths we can follow: develop the process (if it does not exist), redesign the process (if it is sore need of fixing) or improve the process (tweaking it in incremental ways). So let’s explore each of these paths in a little more depth.
Develop the Process: This path occurs when you really do not have a process. You might have some loosely followed procedures or perhaps steps that people follow in their heads. There is no formally defined, developed or documented process. This path allows you to start from the beginning by gathering requirements for the process, creating a process definition document and then implementing the process. This path takes the longest time and in some ways the most work.

Redesign the Process: This path occurs when the process you have in place just does not provide the outcomes or value you thought it would when you put it in place. This step requires the willingness to remove your current process, analyze it to see if anything is salvageable from the process and completely redesign the process from the ground up. As a result this path is sometimes called “radical redesign.” It requires a willingness to do away with the old and replace it with something new that will bring the value and outcomes your customers desire.
Improve the Process: The last path involves assessing and analyzing your current process to identify opportunities for improvement. Unlike redesign, this path does not require “radical” steps. Rather this path requires incremental improvements in a slow progression towards the expected or desired value or outcomes form the process. In many ways this path is the hardest because it is like climbing a steep hill or mountain. The higher up you get on the hill (the more mature your process) the harder each step is to take and the return to effort ratio turns against you (diminishing returns).
Each path has its benefits and challenges. Prior to deciding how to improve your processes make sure you decide which path is best or most appropriate for your customers, your organization and the process itself.

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