Work Processes 4 Ways To Optimize Them

Work processes are a fundamental part of any business. Especially with regard to the segment in which your business is currently running, they play an important role in the overall business efficiency, as well as in customer satisfaction. In this article, you will learn what work processes are, some particularities of work processes and ways to optimize them through the Kanban method. In order to understand what a work process is, let’s firstly take a look at the concept behind a business process.

What is Business Process?

In a brief view, a business process corresponds to the required path that leads to getting work done within an organization:

Business processes diagram

Basically, a business process presents three key parts: Inputs (x), work processes f(x) and output (y). Aiming at yielding a product or service to the market, all these three parts need to be available. In the above diagram, we have process inputs (x), one process output (y) and just one work process composed of two process stages (Stage 1 and Stage 2). In practice, however, multiple work processes can run simultaneously and more than one process output is available.

The process inputs represent the different types of resources (e.g. raw materials, devices, machines, working team, etc.) that are required by the business process in order to yield the process output (y) to the customers, often a product or service. The business process can stay under control through the correct use of feedback information.

What is Work Process?

Work process can be understood as a standardized way to create value inside a business process. In essence, a work process is a series of activities (also called process stages) or actions that are necessary to transform the available inputs into process outputs.

For example, let’s say that the above diagram schematically depicts the process of a manufacturing business to produce a specific component through a work process composed of just two process stages (Stage-1 and Stage-2) where work is performed sequentially. Stage-1 denotes the process stage where raw material selection and preparation occurs, whereas Stage-2 symbolizes the manufacturing stage needed to accomplish the component. In this example, value is created throughout the entire work process, where the work process deliverable is the manufactured component.

Most work processes need improvements in the course of time to fulfill the business goals. If work processes are not optimized, delays, financial losses or even disappointment may happen. Therefore, the constant review and optimization of work processes are critical to maintain a business sustainable in the market.

How to optimize work processes with the Kanban method?

Work processes can be optimized through the Kanban method by applying the principles and practices related to this method.

The Kanban method´s principles are the basis of the method and characterize generic directives that must be followed in order to allow the effective use of the method. The Kanban method uses four basic principles that when correctly employed, enable the optimization of work processes. Among the four main principles of the Kanban method, the following stand out:

1. Start with what you do now

First of all, it means not disrupting what you are doing now, that is, you can start exactly with the work process your team is used to employing in daily activities. It is intuitive to understand that, if something is being done the way it is being done now, probably there is a certain value and a meaningful result. Just because we need to improve work processes, it does not necessarily mean we should completely condemn the current work processes being done today. Here, we begin to highlight existing problems in the work processes that can be improved over time.

2. Agree to carry out improvements through incremental change.

Based on the problems and possible opportunities for improvements detected previously, the proposed changes must be made incrementally, as the Kanban method encourages the continuous improvement of work processes through small changes. Small changes allow less resistance from the work team and better acceptance of proposed improvements. With this principle, the “to-be” state of the work process can be planned by the team which commits to improve continuously.

3. Respect the current work processes, roles and responsibilities.

This principle means that initially, businesses do not need to change their work processes, roles and responsibilities in order to improve their work processes. In other words, the status quo has its value and must be respected. Changing everything aiming at revolutionary improvements may sound attractive and ambitious, but as a consequence, huge resistance by teamwork may arise and further changes will be very difficult to be implemented.

4. Promote leadership actions at all levels.

This means the practice of constant improvement, that is, people can and should always improve, from the project manager, through the team members and the entire organizational hierarchy of the business. Any team member can act as a leader based on their expertise. In practice, this involves encouraging an environment favorable to change that rewards team members when they implement even small improvements during day-to-day activities.

In addition to the adoption of the Kanban method principles, the use of some common practices proposed by the Kanban method can also help you to optimize your work processes. This includes the use of the five Kanban practices, namely:

  • visualizing the work process workflow
  • limiting work in progress (WIP)
  • measuring and managing process workflow
  • making process policies explicit
  • improving work processes experimentally

All these common practices can be supported for instance through the use of digital Kanban boards, thus helping you streamline important work processes and continuously improving them when and where needed.

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About the Author: Adriano Boaron

Adriano Boaron, Author at Kanban Zone
Adriano Boaron is a research and development (R&D) scientific engineer with focus on manufacturing processes and a passion for research and content writing in this field. Over the last 12 years, he has planned, developed and coordinated applied scientific R&D projects both in industry and at research institutes in the field of machining processes, namely, in the grinding process and process monitoring. During this period, he had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with Project Management and Agile tools like Kanban method which he uses often in his professional projects and writes content as freelance professional. In his free time, he enjoys birdwatching and loves playing drums.

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