How to Implement a Process Improvement Plan

Every process can be improved upon at some point. Maybe it’s a legacy process that doesn’t make sense in the current business structure. Or new technology has emerged that can make the process more efficient. In many cases, processes need to be improved just to keep up with changes in business strategy. 

Improving any process starts with a plan. This guide will show you what a process improvement plan looks like, and what you’ll need to keep in mind as you build your own.

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What is a process improvement plan?

When business processes work, we don’t give them much thought. Why? Because we don’t have to. They help complete tasks and allow us to focus our attention on the next task, meeting, or challenge.

But when a process doesn’t work, we’re painfully aware of it. The most frustrating aspect of a faulty process is that the problem recurs. Imagine a scenario in which one work interruption turns into three. The issue is a software bug you can’t fix. One week later, IT hasn’t responded to your help request. You create a spreadsheet with the formula you need, but it requires a large amount of data entry. A task that once took 10 minutes to complete now takes 25 minutes.

You developed a viable workaround solution, but it added an extra hour and 15 minutes to your work week. Other tasks fall behind because your division manager needs those numbers for a daily meeting. The proper channels yielded no solution.

Does this sound familiar? 

Businesses engage in process improvement to solve issues like these. Process improvement plans help achieve operational excellence and pinpoint issues, even very small ones, that cost the company time, revenue, and, in many cases, accuracy. 

How to create a process improvement plan

The best employees are often resourceful, helpful people who like to think of themselves as problem solvers. They are tempted to jump in to help fix each issue. 

If the problem is due to a faulty process, however, it will require a change in operations by first creating a process improvement plan. Use the following steps to identify process gaps and find their solutions.

Map the current processes

Improving processes begins with becoming familiar with them. To do this, take a task and amplify each step in its process, and ask questions about it. Your questions will most likely be industry- and business-specific, but a few general issues most organizations address with their process improvement plan are as follows:

  • What is required for an item to be produced, shipped, and delivered? 
  • How much time do employees spend on tasks?
  • Do employees have all the resources they need to complete the task? 
  • Who is accountable for each step in the task? 
  • Are due dates consistently met? If not, why? 

The answers to these questions will lead to other more specific questions, and eventually, a three-dimensional view of that process. Once you have mapped all processes, you have a transparent view of how your business operates. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Learn more about process mapping

Define business objectives

You are most likely seeking to improve your business processes for good reasons, but what are they?

Specify these end goals and keep them in mind as you take the next few steps. Lowering costs is a mission most companies strive to achieve at all times, as well as increasing productivity and customer satisfaction. The beauty of process improvement is that it doesn’t operate in a vacuum; you may discover additional issues or bottlenecks you didn’t know existed. It’s okay to add or alter objectives as you go.  

Identify opportunities for improvement

Scrutinize your process maps. What did they reveal? Common findings at this stage can include communications gaps, technological inadequacies, and overworked employees. Share these findings with your team and invite them to contribute honest assessments of where and how improvements could be made. As the employees who carry out these processes on a daily basis, their knowledge and experiences are usually necessary to find the root cause of a bottleneck.

Redesign, test, and validate the plan

When you arrive at a potential solution, implement the necessary changes. This stage will most likely involve new software, tools, or employee training. Be patient as each stakeholder adjusts to the changes. Test the new process multiple times to ensure that it runs smoothly and provides the required solutions.

Monitor and evaluate plan performance

Continually monitor the effectiveness of the new process over time. Survey your team members for their thoughts and concerns. How much waste has been eliminated? Total time and costs saved? When the process is deemed a success, document the plan and update all standards and procedures accordingly.

Communicate the changes

Make each stakeholder and department aware of process changes immediately, and provide timely answers to their questions and concerns. Process improvement offers a chance to hit the reset button on the way your team works, which means you now have an opportunity to resolve previous communication breakdowns. Take the time to build/rebuild relationships and make each employee feel heard.

Review and optimize the process

When the newly updated process runs for a designated amount of time (usually from three to six months), review the results and fill any remaining gaps accordingly. Process improvement is an ongoing cycle that continues, of course, with future improvements. Consider standardizing the improvement process by establishing templates and forms using your current documented improvement plan.

Process improvement plan example

So what does a process improvement plan look like? Here is an example of how a common purchasing process can be improved. Below, we look at a side-by-side comparison of as-is and to-be versions of the same process.

Current (as-is) processNew (to-be) process
Purchase requests arrive through multiple channels. Incoming purchase requests are centralized into a single source.
Purchase requests often have missing or incomplete information, causing delays.Forms use rules and conditionals to prevent missing or incomplete information. Forms are easily accessible to all stakeholders. 
Purchase requests are manually routed for approval.Incoming requests are automatically routed to the appropriate reviewer based on department, cost, or other criteria. 
Handoffs are frequently broken or delayed. Automations keep requests moving through the workflow and reinforce visibility for all stakeholders with automatic notifications, due dates, and status updates. 
A high degree of back-and-forth between stakeholders.Centralized information avoids the need to switch between apps or systems frequently. 
Data silos require data to be manually entered into multiple systems.Integrations move data between systems effortlessly. 
Purchase requests take too long to process.Purchase request processing time is greatly reduced and the process becomes more efficient. 

Simplify your process improvement plans with Pipefy 

Creating and implementing a process improvement plan may sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the tools businesses use to simplify process improvement is low-code process automation. 

Pipefy is a low-code process automation tool that makes it easy for teams to improve their processes, without adding to the IT backlog. A visual interface empowers business teams to continually improve their processes while keeping IT teams in control with permission management and baked-in security features. 

Pipefy integrates with your existing tech stack to deliver a streamlined, unified user experience that dissolves data silos and overcomes barriers to collaboration. 

See why more businesses trust Pipefy to improve their processes
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