Step 1: Process Improvement Objective

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Selecting a Process for Improvement

In the beginning of a process improvement initiative, leadership typically identifies problem areas and nominates the first processes to be investigated and improved.

As the quality improvement process takes hold within a company all employees should eventually be empowered to recommend a process that needs improvement.

Selection Considerations

  • The process can be defined. (Be careful not to pick something too big. It should be possible to complete the improvement effort within 90 days.)
  • The problem in the process occurs frequently. (Pareto analysis can be helpful here.)
  • The problem area is well-known and has visibility in the company, work center, or office.
  • Improvement of this process is important to customers and/or leadership.
  • People will appreciate it when the process is improved.
  • There is a good chance of success in improving the process - it can be fixed.
  • No one else is currently working on improving this process.
  • Required changes can be put into effect with little or no outside help.

Focus on understanding what's important to the customer. Every work area, whether large or small, has both internal and external customers.

THEREFORE, the starting point in selecting a process for quality improvement is to obtain information and data from its customers about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the products or services being produced by the organization.

START small - once people can handle improving a simple process, they'll be able to tackle more complicated ones.

The selected process should occur often enough to be observed and documented. Process improvement boundaries, in the form of clear starting and stopping points, MUST be defined. 

  • Use a Pareto Chart to help identify one or more factors or problems which are occurring frequently and these can be investigated by the Quality Improvement Team. This analysis can be based on historic or some preliminary data collected by the team. 
  • As leadership and line managers gain experience working with the Quality Improvement Model, processes can be selected which have been performing poorly or which offer a potentially high payback in improving performance. In any case, it’s best to move from the simple to the complicated, and from the better performing to the worst performing processes.
  • Focus on processes that teams can fix. A process that is primarily controlled, or significantly constrained, by outside factors is probably not a good candidate for an internally staffed Quality Improvement Team.

Establishing An Objective 

Establishing an Improvement Objective

Process Improvement Objectives

Once a process is selected for quality improvement, the team needs to establish a well-defined process improvement objective. The definition of the objective should answer this question: What improvement do we want to accomplish by using the quality improvement methodology?

Objectives are often easily discovered by listening to internal and external customers.

The team should use interviews during process walk-throughs to identify target values to use as goals for improving the product or service produced by the process.

Respectfully identifying problems associated with a process helps define the process improvement objective. 

The people working in the process will identify activities that take too long, involve too many people, produce the defects, include redundant or unnecessary steps, or are subject to frequent breakdowns or delays.

These problems are the symptoms of process failures, and it is the deficiencies in the process that must be identified and corrected for true quality improvement to occur.

For an improvement effort to be successful, the team must start with a clear definition of what the problem is and what is expected from the process improvement.

Here's an example:

Repairing the a seal of a high-pressure air compressor currently takes six hours. Internal customers would like that time reduced but are concerned that product quality may suffer if the process is changed.

The team believes the repair time can be reduced to as little as four hours by improving the process.

The process improvement objective can be stated like this: 

“High-pressure air compressor fourth stage seals are repaired in four hours or less, with no increase in the mean-time-between-failures for the repaired parts.”

Clearly stated and quantitative quality improvement objectives will help keep the team’s efforts focused on achieving the result.

Quality Improvement Process

Step 1: Select the process to be improved and establish a well-defined process improvement objective. The objective can be established by the team or come from management.

Step 2: Organize a team to improve the process. This involves selecting the “right” people to serve on the team; identifying the resources available for the improvement effort, such as people, time, money, and materials; setting reporting requirements; and determining the team’s level of authority. These elements should be formalized in a written charter.

Step 3: Define the current process using a flow chart. This will generate a step-by-step map of the activities, actions, and decisions which occur between the starting and stopping points of the process.

Step 4: Simplify the process by removing redundant or unnecessary activities. It's likely that people may be seeing the process on paper in its entirety for the first time from Step 3. This can be a real "eye-opener" which will prepare them to take the first steps in improving the process.

Step 5: Develop a plan for collecting data and collect baseline data if it's not already being collected. This baseline data will be used as a "yardstick" later in the quality improvement process. This begins the
evaluation of the process against the process improvement objective established in Step 1. The flowchart in Step 3 is used to help determine who should collect data and where in the process data should be collected.

Step 6: Assess whether the process is stable. Create a control chart or run chart out of the data collected in Step 5 to gain a better understanding of what is happening in the process. Future actions of the team are dictated by whether special cause variation is found in the process.

Step 7: Assess whether the process is capable. Create a histogram to
compare the data collected in Step 5 against the process improvement objective established in Step 1. Usually the process simplification actions in Step 4 are not enough to make the process capable of meeting the objective and the team will have to continue on to Step 8 in search of root causes. Even if the data indicate that the process is meeting the objective, the team should consider whether it is feasible to improve the process further before going on to Step 14.

Step 8: Identify the root causes which prevent the process from meeting the objective. Use a cause-and-effect diagram or brainstorming to generate possible reasons why the process fails to meet the desired objective.

Step 9: Develop a plan for implementing a process change based on the possible reasons for the process’s inability to meet the objective set for it. These root causes were identified in Step 8. The planned quality improvement involves revising the steps in the simplified flowchart created after changes were made in Step 4.

Step 10: Modify the data collection plan developed in Step 5, if necessary.

Step 11: Test the changed process and collect data.

Step 12: Assess whether the changed process is stable . Same as Step 6, use a control chart or run chart to determine process stability. If the process is stable, the team can move on to Step 13; if not, you should return the process to its former state and plan another change.

Step 13: Assess whether the change improved the process. Using the data collected in Step 11 and a histogram, the team determines whether the process is closer to meeting the process improvement objective established in Step 1. If the objective is met, the team can progress to Step 14; if not, the team must decide whether to keep or discard the change.

Step 14: Determine whether additional process improvements are feasible. The team is faced with this decision following process simplification in Step 7 and again after initiating an improvement in Steps 8 through 13. In Step 14, the team has the choice of embarking on continuous process improvement by reentering the model at Step 9, or simply monitoring the performance of the process until
further improvement is feasible.

14 Step Quality Improvement Roadmap

Quality Improvement Process Roadmap

From Process Improvement Objective to Process Quality Improvement

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