How to improve processes

When improving processes many companies start with the audit or assessment report and try to adress the weaknesses. That is a good approach in a mature company with a small gap to their target.

If the gap is larger the approach does not work well, try this approach instead:

Gather input on problems and improvement opportunities
Use multiple sources as input

  • Internal audits and assessments
  • External audits and assessments
  • Customer feedback
  • Problems databases
  • Objective metrics
  • Interviews
  • Project close down reviews

Different stakeholders can provide different perspectives and typically have different views. Make sure input from all relevant stakeholders is used.

Group related issues and improvement opportunities
Group related problems and improvement opportunities to possible long-term improvement projects. Projects should be roughly on the process level.
For example if there are many issues related to requirements changes and testing of requirements a first project could be to address “requirements analysis”. This groups related problems together and addresses a probable root cause more than a symptom.

Prioritize improvemenet projects
When prioritizing between different immprovement projects, consider:

  • Work from left to right in the engineering V-model
  • Work from top to bottom
  • Long lead time tasks first (typically tool based methods and changes requiring reorganization)
  • Time constraints of target projects

You can typically only handle 2 – 3 major improvement projects in paralell. Do not fall into teh trap of trying to everything at once.

Adress root causes and not the symptoms
In many cases your inputs to process improvement (like customer feedback or audit reports) are mostly symptoms. The best improvement projects typically adresses the root causes instead of symptoms. Use the “Why, why, why, why, why” approach to get down to root causes. Do not be afraid to challenge current approaches in this phase.

Identify short term tasks
Define the actions needed to establish the improved process / method. Actions should create the necessary output. This may include

  • Tools and methods
  • Templates
  • Guidelines
  • Processes
  • Training material
  • Good examples
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational proposals

Iteratively develop methods and QS assets
Typically use an iterative process in a small working group or a pilot project to develop the necessary methods and QS assets.