Process Improvement

In the efforts of engineering and developing products, methods and practices for getting things done naturally arise. These processes become codified and start making there way into sets of procedures or protocols. As processes arise or are inherited it is important to recognize where they came from and when appropriate to maintain or remove them.

Process can be a dirty word for individuals who don’t want to be encumbered. They can be seen as a way to slow down progress or be viewed as completely unnecessary. Whenever these individuals encounter additional steps or overhead–especially without justification–the initial reaction is to forego them. Depending on the process and what outcome you are trying to achieve, this may or may not be merited.

When developing new products, researching new solutions, or trying to find new methods, removing process barriers makes sense. The goal is to try as many solutions as possible and discover the best as quickly as possible. In this fast, prototyping mode–shortcuts expedite the learning and get you to results.

Some process may be so horribly outdated that it no longer provides the optimal solution. Always be wary of protocol if it is enforced because it has always been that way. In the very least there should be some rationale or justification to a process if you are going to use it. If there is someone who recommends a process, it should come with a reason.

When considering changes for existing process, it is important to understand where and how a process has arisen within the context of the overall system. Process can always be improved incrementally or further simplified as more experience is gained. No system is stagnant. Although process improvement and efficiency exercises are not glamorous, constant improvement is essential. In the course of improvement, you may find that the solution space is so limited, it is better to remove the process altogether and develop the approach anew.

Processes can arise from discovering best known methods and codifying the procedure. The cost of learning from mistakes may arise after catastrophic failures or delays. These processes are safety mechanisms. Some products require a high degree of process because a resultant failure is too costly such as the case for safety or high reliability systems. If you are working within safety systems or processes where the cost of error is high, there are good reasons to have protocol and process. Hospitals and airliners have developed process from years of experience.

If you understand your process better, how it has arisen, and what you are trying to accomplish, you can always find ways to improve.

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