Step 4: Process Simplification

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An immediate benefit of process simplification is quality improvement...

Each time a step is removed all of the actual and potential defects associated with the step are also removed.

Develop a flow chart (Step 3) and review how work is getting done and how things really work. This will help identify problems in the works flow.

Almost immediately you may locate steps or decision points that are redundant. You may find that the process contains unnecessary inspections. You may discover procedures that were installed in the past to fix problems and failures that are no longer occurring.

Besides identifying areas where resources are being wasted, you may find "weak links" that are causing defects. In this instance you need to add more steps.

All of this extra work and waste eats up precious resources. 

Before stepping in to make changes based on a preliminary review of the as-is flow chart, a team should answer the following questions for each step in the flow chart:

  • Can this step be done in parallel with other steps, rather than in sequence?
  • Does this step have to be completed before another can be started, or can two or more steps be performed at the same time?
  • What would happen if this step were eliminated? Would the output of interest remain the same? Would the output be unacceptable because it is incomplete or has too many defects?
  • Would eliminating this step achieve the quality improvement objective?
  • Is the step being performed by the appropriate person?
  • Is the step a work-around because of poor training or a safety net inserted to prevent recurrence of a failure?
  • Is the step a single repeated action, or is it part of a rework loop which can be eliminated?
  • Does the step add value to the product or service being produced?

If the answers to these questions indicate waste, consider doing away with the step. If a step or decision block can be removed without degrading things, the team is recovering resources which can be used elsewhere in the organization.

Eliminating redundant or unnecessary steps confers an added benefit - a decrease in cycle time. Only part of the time it takes to complete most processes is productive time; the rest is delay and waste.

Quality Improvement - Simplification Flow Chart

process simplification roadmap

Delay consists of waiting for someone to take action, waiting for a part to be received, and similar unproductive activities. Consequently, removing a step which causes delay reduces cycle time by decreasing the total time it takes to complete the product or service.

After making preliminary changes you should create a flow chart of the simplified method. 

Quality Improvement Sanity Check

Can the simplified approach produce products or services acceptable to customers and in compliance with applicable existing directives? If the answer is “yes,” and the team has the authority to make changes, they should institute the simplified flow chart as the new standard picture of the process.

But perhaps a team is required to get permission to make the recommended changes. In that case, a comparison of the simplified flow chart with the original as-is flow chart can become the centerpiece of a briefing to those in a position to grant approval.

At this point, the people working in the process must be trained using the new flow chart of the simplified method. It is vital to ensure that they understand and adhere to the new way of doing business. Otherwise, things will rapidly revert to the way they were before the quality improvement team started work.

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 Simplification to Quality Improvement.

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