There are now countless instruments and support tools for process management for its improvement in different areas: problem analysis, generation and classification of ideas or process and workflow representation. Each tool has a specific use with different options, as well as diverse advantages and weak points.
General criteria for selecting and using improvement tools
The main problem when selecting which tool or tools to use during the development of an improvement project is choosing between the wide ranges available. Besides, every professional has his or her own preferences and personal tastes so, on occasion, it is difficult to reach an agreement.
Here are a few recommendations for selecting and using these kind of tools:
Pre-screen those that we think will best suit our goals and requirements.
It is not necessary to follow instructions or methodology of the selected tools to the letter.
Learn to use a couple of tools and adapt them to the needs of our organisation.
Tools for problem analysis
Two of the most commonly used are: the cause and effect diagram and the Pareto chart. Below we will see their principle features and how they work.
This is a tool for analysis that allows you to obtain a detailed chart and easy to visualise of the various reasons that can cause a particular effect or problem. Therefore, it is used, when one wants to detect an undesirable effect and discover the cause.
It is often used when investigating the causes of a problem, by incorporating opinions from a group of people who are directly or indirectly related.
The cause-effect diagram is also known as the Ishikawa diagram, named after its creator, the Japanese professor Kaoru Ishikawa. It is now considered one of the foremost improvement tools due to its great simplicity and efficiency.
The Pareto Chart is an analysis tool that is extremely helpful when making decisions according to priorities. It is based on the principle that "80% of problems can be solved by eliminating 20% of the causes they stem from", as stated by Vilfredo Pareto. This means that with a few corrective actions a large number of deficiencies can be solved.
It is based on a bar chart, the bars representing the corresponding factors to a certain magnitude, ordered from greatest to least (in descending order) and from left to right.
This type of diagram is most commonly used for:
Knowing which is the most important factor or factors in a problem.
Determining the root cause of a problem.
Deciding on the improvement objective and the elements that should be improved.
Ascertaining whether the desired effect has been achieved (by comparison with the initial Pareto Charts).
Tools for generating ideas
The best-known of these is the technique called Brainstorming, also called a storm or a thought shower. This is a group work tool that facilitates the emergence of new ideas on a certain subject or problem
Brainstorming was developed in 1938 by Alex Faickney Osborn. It aims to derive the full benefit from interaction between various individuals organizing meetings of a relaxed and informal nature in which they try to gather ideas, hopefully innovative and creative ones, regarding a certain subject for subsequent evaluation.
Methods for work flow and process representation
The SIPOC Diagram as its initials imply Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers, is the graphical representation of process management in five phases. It is a particularly interesting system as it allows the process to be visualised in a simple way, identifying the parts involved:
Supplier. The person who provides resources for the process.
Inputs. Everything required to carry out the process; information, raw materials, professionals, infrastructure, etc.
Process Set of activities that transform inputs into outputs, giving them added value.
Outputs Results generated (products, services, etc.)
Customer: The person who receives the results of the process. The objective is to obtain the satisfaction of this customer.
The flow chart or diagram of activities is a very well-known method that consists in graphical representation of the workflow of any given activity. It is regularly used to improve organisational or industrial processes.
These diagrams use symbols with defined meanings that represent the execution flow with arrows connecting the starting and finishing points of the process.
All these tools are characterised by offering a highly schematic and clear image of processes, actions and algorithms concerning any activity related to work circuits. This is a great help for the rapid detection of specific problems that had previously passed unnoticed.