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How to Create a Process Improvement Plan in 4 Simple Steps

Lari Numminen

May 19, 2023

As businesses become more digitalized and complex, the ability to streamline operations and improve efficiencies is a secret superpower. One effective way to achieve this is by creating and implementing a process improvement plan. This involves examining current business processes, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes to enhance efficiency.

We'll go through how to create a process improvement plan in 4 simple steps, but first let's cover some foundations of business process management.

Benefits of a Well-Implemented Process Improvement Plan

Process improvement plans can yield many benefits, including cost savings, improved productivity, better quality control, enhanced customer satisfaction, and increased profitability. They also allow businesses to remain competitive by facilitating innovation and continuous improvement.

Who should be on a process improvement team

Process improvement is a team sport. If you're looking to deliver long term results, you'll need to build an effective and collaborative team consisting of different roles:

  • a project management team lead by a process excellence or improvement Project Manager,
  • executive sponsors from the business unit leadership or company management,
  • subject matter experts and process owners who are the experts in the work being done.

Process improvement planning requires cross-functional communication and planning skills, so keep in mind also the right mix of skills and experience to coordinate and execute projects successfully across business operations.

What a process improvement plan should include

A well-rounded process improvement plan should encompass several key elements.

A SMART process challenge

Firstly, the process improvement objective is vital. This could be a range of goals, from reducing costs to increasing efficiency or improving customer satisfaction. A clear direction ensures all process improvement efforts have a defined purpose.

A good objective can be described in a process challenge statement. This is ideally described in the form of a smart goal, that is (s) specific,  (m) measurable, (a) attainable, (r) relevant and (t) time bound.  For example, it could be "To improve our customer NPS, we plan to reduce the throughput time of our new customer onboarding process by 30% before the end of next quarter."

Business Process discovery

Next comes process discovery. It's crucial to have a thorough understanding of the as-is state of current processes. By meticulously examining the existing operations, you can highlight inefficiencies, redundancies, or bottlenecks that should be rectified.

There are different ways you can diagnose and discover existing process health, whether it is through task mining or process mining software, or through a process discovery workshop or analysis. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind these process discovery best practices.

Process Map

The third key element of process improvement plans is process mapping. A process map is a visual representation of the process, created using flowcharts or similar diagrammatic tools, assists in identifying root causes of inefficiencies. It lays out the process step-by-step, making it easier to spot issues and devise solutions.

Process mapping allows you to document and communicate the health of existing processes and process performance. They can also be used to document inefficient processes and increased resource efficiency of re-designing current process flows.

Implementation and communication strategy

After this comes the implementation strategy and communication plan, where the necessary changes are defined and communicated to key stakeholders. Depending on the specific needs of the business, these can range from minor adjustments to complete overhauls.

An effective communication strategy is paramount to ensure that all stakeholders are in the loop. Everyone involved should be aware of the upcoming changes, understand why they're being implemented, and be prepared for their roles in the transition. If the improvements require employees to learn new skills or tools, training programs need to be planned and executed.

Process Measurement and Standardization

Finally, performance measurement should be set up to assess the success of the process improvements. Regular measurement of these key performance indicators (KPIs) helps determine the effectiveness of the changes and guide necessary adjustments. The process improvement journey doesn't end when the changes are implemented; the improved process should be reviewed periodically for further potential improvements.

With effective measurement in place you can ensure process standarization. This allows you to confirm that different teams and stakeholders are all conforming to the agreed process improvement plan and process maps.

Remember, the ultimate goal of a process improvement plan is to enhance business performance by refining crucial processes. It's not a one-time project but should foster a culture of continuous enhancement.

Step-by-step guide to creating a process improvement plan

With the right ingredients in place, you can execute your process improvement plan through a simple four "D" framework:

  1. Discover
  2. Define
  3. Develop
  4. Deliver

Step 1: Discover as-is through process discovery

Process discovery is the initial phase of creating a process improvement plan. This step involves identifying the existing business processes that need improvement. Some techniques to achieve this include observation, document analysis, interviews, and workshops. The goal is to fully understand the current state of the process and identify the areas for improvement.

Key Decision Points FOR Process Discovery

How you do your process discovery will have a major impact on the amount of insights and value you get out of this key step.

In the past, process discovery has been done through workshops, interviews of key stakeholders or through time and motion studies observing employees as they work. This proven method is the cornerstone of business process analysis, but it does have limitations supporting process improvement plans. Typically, the manual discovery takes time and resources to execute, and if done as a project basis, process discovery doesn't provide insights for maintaining a continuous improvement plan.

Today, automated process discovery solutions such as process mining and task mining make the proces discovery step much more detailed, efficient and scientific. Additionally, many tools offering automated process discovery functionality will provide improvement opportunities, conformance checking and process simulation.

Step 2: Define should-be through process mapping

After discovering the processes, the next step is process mapping. This involves creating visual representations of the processes identified in the discovery phase. Process maps can help visualize the sequence of events, identify bottlenecks, and uncover inefficiencies that may not be apparent at first glance.

Key Elements of Process Mapping

Process mapping is an integral part of process improvement and can be done in several ways. The simplest form is a Basic Flowchart, which represents a process linearly using different shapes for tasks, decisions, and the start/end points.

More complex processes may use a Swimlane Flowchart, where different lanes represent different stakeholders or departments, effectively visualizing not just the tasks but also who is responsible for them.

Value Stream Maps are particularly useful for manufacturing processes; they map not only the process steps but also the flow of materials and information, highlighting where value is added.

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a standardized method for multi-tiered process mapping, providing a detailed visualization that includes the sequence, messages, events, and even the specific type of tasks.

Finally, Data Flow Diagrams (DFDs) focus on how data moves through a system, showing where it originates, where it goes, and how it's altered. By selecting the most suitable method, businesses can create a process map that provides a clear, visual understanding of their operations and paves the way for effective improvements.

Step 3: Develop improvements through collaborative process implementation

Once the process maps are created, the next step is process implementation. This involves making the necessary changes identified during the mapping phase. It's crucial to communicate these changes effectively to all stakeholders and provide the necessary training to ensure a smooth transition.

Effective Techniques for Process Implementation

To get meaningful impact, process improvement requires a comprehensive, strategic approach. Here are several key aspects that can contribute to successful implementation.

Engaging Stakeholders: To ensure a smooth transition, it's essential to engage all stakeholders early in the process. This includes not only those who will be directly involved in the changes but also anyone affected by them. Involving stakeholders helps garner support, encourage cooperation, and identify potential issues early on.

Effective Communication: Clear and consistent communication is vital throughout the implementation process. Everyone involved should understand what changes are being made, why they're important, and what their role is in the process. Regular updates should be provided to keep everyone informed of progress and any changes to the plan.

Providing Training: If the process changes require new skills or knowledge, providing training is crucial. This could involve one-on-one training, workshops, or online resources, depending on the complexity of the changes and the learning styles of the employees.

Step 4: Deliver Results through Process Standardization

The final step in creating a process improvement plan is process standardization. This ensures consistency and continuity in the way processes are carried out across the organization. Standardization also aids in reducing variations and errors, thus improving overall operational efficiency.

Process standardization, in simple terms, refers to the practice of establishing uniform procedures for different business operations. This ensures that tasks are performed consistently, regardless of who performs them or when they are carried out.

Why is Standardization Vital for Processes?

By establishing clear, repeatable processes, companies can eliminate variation, improve efficiency, and drive predictability in outcomes.

  • Consistency in Output. Process standardization ensures that outputs are consistent, no matter who is doing the work. This leads to improved product or service quality and customer satisfaction.
  • Reduced Errors and Increased Quality. By reducing variability in processes, standardization helps decrease errors, improving the quality of outputs.
  • Increased Efficiency. Standardized processes remove unnecessary steps, reduce redundancy, and streamline workflows, leading to increased operational efficiency.
  • Enhanced Compliance. Standardization simplifies compliance with regulatory requirements, as processes are clearly defined and easily auditable.

Best Practices to Optimize Your Process Improvement Plan

It's important to remember that process improvement is an ongoing activity. It’s crucial to consistently monitor and analyze the improved processes for potential enhancements. Involving team members in the process and establishing a culture of continuous improvement are other key strategies to optimize your process improvement plan.

Use the right process improvement KPIs

When developing a process improvement plan its important to use measurable goals and targets that define more efficient operations.

10 key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used for measuring the success of process improvement:

  1. Cycle Time: This measures the total time from the beginning to the end of your process. By reducing this time, you can improve productivity.
  2. Cost Per Transaction: This KPI helps you determine the cost-effectiveness of a process by measuring how much each transaction costs in resources.
  3. Process Efficiency: This KPI measures the ratio of output to input in your processes. A high efficiency indicates that a process is producing a high output with minimal waste.
  4. Error Rate: Monitoring the number of errors or defects can help you evaluate the quality of a process and its improvement over time.
  5. Customer Satisfaction: By conducting surveys or collecting feedback, you can measure how satisfied customers are with a particular process.
  6. Employee Productivity: This KPI measures the amount of work each employee is able to complete. Improvements in this area could indicate successful process changes.
  7. Compliance Rate: If your processes need to comply with specific regulations or standards, this KPI can track your success rate in meeting those requirements.
  8. First-Time-Right Rate: This KPI assesses the effectiveness of a process by measuring how often tasks are completed correctly the first time.
  9. On-time Completion Rate: This measures how often processes are completed within the expected timeframe.
  10. Waste Reduction: In a manufacturing or production context, this KPI can be used to measure the amount of waste produced in a process and how this decreases over time with improvements.


Creating a process improvement plan may seem like a daunting task, but with the right approach and techniques, it can significantly boost the efficiency and productivity of your business. Remember, the process improvement plan is a strategic tool that aids in continuous innovation and competitiveness in today's dynamic market. From process discovery, mapping, and implementation, to standardization, each step plays a vital role in refining and enhancing your business processes.

Process Improvement Q&A

What are popular process improvement methods?

Several process improvement methods have gained popularity over the years. These include:

  • Six Sigma: This method focuses on improving the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of errors and minimizing variability in business processes.
  • Lean: Originating from the Toyota Production System, Lean focuses on minimizing waste within a manufacturing system while simultaneously maximizing productivity.
  • Business Process Reengineering (BPR): This method involves a radical redesign of core business processes to achieve significant improvements in productivity, cycle times, and quality.
  • Kaizen: A Japanese philosophy meaning 'change for the better,' this method focuses on continuous improvement of all functions of an organization, involving all employees.

What are the key elements of a process improvement plan?

A process improvement plan typically involves several key elements. Firstly, it involves the identification of the processes that need improvement. This can be done through different methodologies such as process mapping, which provides a clear picture of the process flow. Secondly, a plan must include performance metrics. These metrics will provide a baseline against which the effectiveness of improvements can be measured. Thirdly, the plan should include a clear definition of what constitutes improvement. This could be reducing the time taken for a process, improving quality, or reducing costs. The fourth element is the implementation plan itself which should detail how the improvements will be made, who will be responsible for them, and the timeframe for their completion. Lastly, an effective process improvement plan should include a review mechanism to assess the success of the plan and make any necessary adjustments.

What process improvement tools can you use?

There are numerous tools used for process improvement. Some key ones include:

  • Process Mapping: This tool helps visualize the current process to understand the sequence of events, identify inefficiencies, and plan improvements.
  • Fishbone Diagram: Also known as Ishikawa or cause-and-effect diagrams, these help identify, explore, and display the possible causes of a certain problem or quality characteristic.
  • Flowcharts: These graphical representations of a process can be useful in identifying areas of redundancy or steps that may be rearranged to achieve efficiency.
  • Pareto Charts: Based on the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule), these charts can help identify the few key causes that are responsible for the majority of the problems.
  • Control Charts: As part of statistical process control, these charts help monitor variance in a process over time and identify outliers or trends that might suggest underlying issues.
  • Benchmarking: This is a process of comparing your business processes and performance metrics to industry bests or best practices from other industries.
  • 5 Whys: A simple but powerful tool for uncovering the root cause of a problem by asking "Why?" five times, or as many times as needed to reach the root cause.
What are examples of process optimization?

Examples of process optimization include reducing manual data entry through automation, eliminating redundancies in a supply chain, streamlining customer support processes to improve response times, and optimizing production processes to minimize waste and reduce cycle times. These examples demonstrate how process optimization can lead to improved efficiency, cost savings, and better overall performance across various industries and departments within an organization.

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow