There are a range of tools to support you when it comes to process management. Having said this, let’s start by reflecting on your current practices. How do you choose which tool to use to improve processes?
Something psychologist Abraham Maslow said can be used as an analogy: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
Put another way, we oftentimes prefer to settle for what we have instead of looking for better alternatives. And most of the time, the most familiar tools are not the most suitable ones for this purpose.
Nevertheless, we can better choose tools and approaches based on what we are trying to do. This article will show you three essential tools for improving processes and the situations where each can be best applied.
1. Process flow chart
The flow chart is one of the best tools for improving processes. It provides a detailed view of processes in activities, events and decisions through a simplified visual representation, ensuring that tasks are executed in the right order.
The flow chart is perfect if you’re having quality problems with finished products, you need to cut your led time, or you need to boost productivity. You can note the time for each stage and sub-stage in the process, seeing where there may be waste or bottlenecks or if any of these stages can be eliminated or automated.
Flow charts can also be used to document how to do a particular job and they are frequently found in quality procedures and manuals, providing insight into the relationship between each stage in the process, person/team, as well as the good flow among all of these elements.
With the flow chart, you can compare possible conditions for processes with multiple potential results, based on different decisions, making it ideal for processes that can follow different conditional paths.
2. Ishikawa Diagram
An Ishikawa Diagram or cause and effect diagram is a tool used to visualize every possible cause of a problem in an effort to find the root causes.
The tool helps to direct you toward the likely causes of the problem, which are grouped in to six categories, also known as the 6Ms: Method, Material, Manpower, Machines, Measurement and Mother Nature.
This visualization expands the possibilities for the solution, allowing us to create improvements to the process.
The cause and effect diagram can be used in conjunction with other methodologies like Brainstorming, involving the entire team in finding improvements and integrating various points of view in relation to the same problem.
The key to successful resolution is correctly defining the problem. When this happens, it is much easier to identify the causes directly affecting an indicator. This also fosters a factual assessment of data to determine whether or not there is actually a problem.
After aligning and identifying those involved, the problem is used as the end point of the fishbone diagram.
3. Control chart
The control chart or control graph is very important to process monitoring. This tool can be used to study how a process changes over time, therefore leading to supervision of processes in order to find problems and verify their stability.
In this graph, we have a central line for the average, a line at the top for the upper control limit, and a line at the bottom for the lower control limit, which are built using historical data.
By comparing current data with these lines, you can see whether variation in the process is consistent (under control), which indicates that the process is working as it should, or unpredictable (out of control), indicating problems in need of correction.
It doesn’t matter how well-designed your process is; variations can always occur within it. In this sense, the control chart is essential to understanding these variations and taking corrective action.
Benefits of correctly using this tool include increased productivity, reduced costs and less variation in products, in addition to creating a baseline for future improvements and being useful in preparing reports for communicating process performance.
And speaking of tools to improve processes, how about taking a look at SoftExpert Process? An easy-to-use and advanced visual modeling and process analysis solution that helps companies to understand, document and implement business and operational processes in the best possible way.