Process Improvement Project

The Process Improvement Projects versus Operations Management

The coexistence of Process Improvement and Operations Management can be a complex relationship at times, particularly when improvement efforts or projects require the implementation of large-scale changes or alterations to day-to-day operations.

A smooth and amicable relationship between these two functions is critical. Before embarking on any major improvement project, all interested parties should become well versed in the differences between Process Improvement and Operations Management as well as the responsibilities of each function.

An Operational or Functional Department is any group of individuals that carries out a set of repetitive tasks or processes to satisfy mission-critical requirements or to produce products or services.

These are the day-to-day activities that are required in order to sustain the business and are permanent in nature. Examples of operational functions include Order Processing, Legal, Manufacturing, Accounting, Finance, and Sales.

Process ImprovementOpens in new window is the ongoing effort to improve an organization’s processes and activitiesOpens in new window. When operational processes or tasks require improvements in order to achieve better results or meet particular strategic objectives, unique and temporary business initiatives or projects are formed.

These efforts require the expertise and knowledge of a dedicated Process Improvement professional to ensure alignment and disciplined and structured delivery.

A Process Improvement Project is an individual or collaborative initiative designed to determine the cause of a business or an operational issue, define and analyze current performance of activities related to the issue, implement improvements that rectify the issue, and ensure that appropriate operational transition and monitoring occurs.

Process Improvement projects are temporary in nature, have a definitive start and end point, and conclude when projects achieve their improvement objectives or are terminated.

Improvement efforts are undertaken to produce specific outcomes such as a reduction in order cycle times, a reduction in unnecessary shipping costs, production of higher-quality products, or elimination of redundant activities. Once the improvement initiative delivers its output, it is concluded and deployed back into business operations.

Although Process Improvement involves continually examining processes for efficiencies and making improvements to enhance the business, an operational unit often initiates these activities when issues or concerns relating to operational performance are identified.

The efforts to improve or rectify these issues are then led and managed by a Process Improvement ManagerOpens in new window. There is generally significant interaction between an organization’s operations department and Process Improvement teams.

Process Improvement efforts intersect with operations at many points in time including when:

  • Performance issues arise in the execution of a process and Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is required
  • Activities are not shared or visible, and mapping activities are required
  • Processes are not consistent, and operational activities require standardization
  • Changes or improvements to an operational process are required
  • Direct oversight is required to manage improvements throughout each phase of the Process Improvement life cycle
  • Lessons learned or other facilitation is required to discover, change, or discuss better ways of operating

Differences between Improvement Projects and Operations

Key differences between Process Improvement Projects and Operations include the following:

  • Improvement Projects are temporary and unique, while Operations are ongoing activities with repetitive output.
  • Process Improvement requires project management or facilitation of activities, whereas Operations require ongoing functional management.
  • Projects are executed to start a new business objective and terminated when the objective is achieved, while Operational work is performed to keep an organization functioning and to be able to sustain the business.
  • Projects have a definitive beginning and end, while Operations are ongoing.
  • Projects conclude when a unique improvement or result has been attained, while Operations produce the same product service or result on an ongoing basis.
  • A Project  Opens in new window concludes when its specific improvement goals or results have been attained, whereas Operations takes over any newly designed activities and continue their execution.

Similarities between Projects Improvement Projects and Operations

Improvement efforts and Operational activities are as follows:

  • Performed by people
  • Constrained by limited resources
  • Planned, executed, and controlled
  • Executed to achieve particular objectives
    Research data for this work have been adapted from the manual:
  1. Tristan Boutros, Tim Purdie. The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change and Increasing Organizational Performance.