Whether we’re practicing Lean or Six Sigma, what we’re really targeting is process improvement.  The process could be technical, commercial, or a support-process to the standard order-to-delivery process within the context of our manufacturing environment.  All too often, manufacturing executives mistake a sequence of activities to be a process.  That’s simply not the case.

So, what makes a good process?

1. A Good Process should be Simple

Good processes are made as simple as possible to avoid opportunities for error in execution.  Unnecessary complexity makes processes difficult to follow and even more difficult to inspect and control. 

2. A Good Process should be Robust

Good processes are robust for various conditions and circumstances.  Even unlikely inputs or environmental conditions should be accounted for and considered in the process development.  Strong process leaders don’t think quickly on their feet necessarily; strong leaders do have contingency plans and the ability to drive activity through the process even in unanticipated conditions.

3. A Good Process should be Documented

Good processes are documented.  Without documentation (either written or electronic), the process becomes better known as tribal knowledge.  Tribal knowledge is dependent on communication style and technique, meaning it can be revised from one telling to the next, driving bad behaviors and errant process understanding.  Through proper documentation, the expected process is captured and can be used as a standard for process control.

4. A Good Process should be Controlled

Good Processes are executed in a controlled, managed way.  This allows the process to be the same each and every time.  If a process is controlled, it can be improved.  So long as a process lacks variability in its execution, the anticipated outcome will be achieved and that outcome can be improved through process development rigor.

5. A Good Process should be Communicated

Good processes are communicated to those who participate in them, those who receive the outputs of the process, and those who provide the inputs to the process.  Expectations are understood and the ability to self-manage the process is driven.

6. A Good Process is Error-Proofed

Good processes leave little room for error in their execution.  Visual indicators and reminders, poke yoke systems, and other error-proofing techniques are applied in order to safeguard against errant process execution.  This system is so well developed in a Good Process that even the poorly initiated can walk into a process and participate without mistake (be it in terms of quality, safety, or reliability).

It’s likely that not all processes will be initiated with all six characteristics in the strongest possible orientation.  The key is to continuously drive improvement in the process to advance its maturity and better deliver product to customers.

Jason Piatt is president of Praestar Technology Corp., a provider of consulting and training services to manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic region specializing in lean, Six Sigma & strategy formation.