Business Process Improvement (BPI)

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What's in a name?

A business process — what we often call a workflow — is a set of related, structured, sequential actions that produce a specific output (product or service) from a specific input. The process is successful if the “customers” (the recipients of the output, whether internal to the organization or external to it) perceive that it has value. Process improvement (also called process reengineering, optimization, redesign, restructuring or leaning) aims to identify and eliminate work that is being done as part of the process, but that doesn't add any value for customers. The goal is to maximize the value of the output, while minimizing the resources needed to produce it.

Business process reengineering (BPR), was introduced in the commercial world in the 1990s as a way for companies to fundamentally rethink how they do their work. Michael Hammer, once a professor of computer science at MIT, is the name most often associated with BPR, thanks to his 1993 book “Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution.” Many other respected management thinkers of the time either developed similar ideas or (like Peter Drucker and Tom Peters) promoted BPR.

Like other “silver bullet” solutions intended to dramatically improve customer service and cut operational costs, BPR was strikingly successful when first introduced, but then misused and misapplied until it eventually fell out of favor. What remains widely accepted as a standard part of most change methodology portfolios is the process-oriented approach to improving efficiency — what we call business process improvement (BPI).

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Business process improvement (BPI) is a systematic, process-oriented approach to improving results. One of the basic premises of BPI is that rather than automating poorly performing processes to make them go faster, information technology should be used to streamline those processes to make them more cost-effective. While when it was introduced in the 1990s BPI was seen as an engine for enterprise-wide radical change, today it is regarded as one of several quality management tools that quality-focused organizations can use to incrementally improve processes as part of a continuous improvement cycle.

Our BPI program targets both process effectiveness (to produce a higher quality product) and process efficiency (to produce the product at lower cost). BPI can increase profit for businesses, but it also serves nor-for-profits and government agencies who need to deliver more services with less money. For example, read about our BPI for School Districts program to help drive money from administration into classrooms.Plan Do Check Act

IDEAS' 4-Step Plan for BPI

Our 4-step methodology is rooted in the iterative 4‑step quality assurance cycle of continuous improvement: Plan - Do - Check - Act, then start over again at Plan. The PDCA cycle is the operating principle of virtually all quality management system standards, and for good reason: organizations of all sizes, in all sectors, everywhere in the world have benefited from using PDCA in programs like ISO for decades. It's a proven principle that delivers results.

Step 1. Plan
Perform an IPPA
Our Independent Program and Project Analysis (IPPA) is a limited business process audit that follows a quality assurance audit protocol. Typically, we will analyze and map top-level processes and selected critical procedures. The areas of focus are determined in collaboration with the client, based on known problems or critical needs. Through a structured process of information gathering and observation, we evaluate the effectiveness of a process and the quality of the output. We look for redundancies, re-work loops, manual processes that could be automated and any other inefficiencies that do not add value. The findings and recommendations describe what was found and suggest changes that might improve effectiveness or productivity and save money and/or resources. BPI cycle
Step 2. Do
Select Target Recommendations to Implement
Once our IPPA report is delivered, the findings and recommendations must be reviewed by district leadership and an implementation plan prepared. A typical IPPA identifies many ways to save time, money and resources. A reasonable goal is to reduce overhead by 5 to 20 percent, taking into account any investment that might be required to implement a redesigned process. The client selects the targets, the sequence, and the timetable for implementing recommendations.
Step 3. Check
Set Measurable Targets and Establish Monitoring Methods
After selecting the recommendations to be implemented, an implementation plan is prepared that defines not only the steps to be taken, but the targeted improvements and how they will be measured. Measuring and verifying improvement is critical, because not only does it confirm that the changes are meeting the planned objectives, but it provides a baseline for further improvements in the future.
Step 4. Act
Business Process Improvements and Implementation
Process redesign should always begin and end with those who receive the output of the workflow, the “customers.” The technology must be always be subordinate to the workflow. If software is part of a process, the software must function as a tool to make the job easier and not a barrier that must be surmounted to accomplish the job. Eighty percent of the time, the real users of information systems know what needs to be improved, but they don’t have access to the tools or knowledge needed to put the improvements in place. IDEAS can provide the expert assistance to identify and configure the most cost effective way to deliver the identified improvements. We use the principles of usability engineering to shape a new process that is measurably easier (and therefore faster and less costly) for process owners (users) to execute. Consistent application of quality assurance protocols ensures that the redesigned processes can meet the most rigorous scrutiny by outside auditors.