A process audit is a necessary assessment when looking at ways to improve the management of a process, whether to determine how cost-effective the process is or where improvements can be made. Processes can be those involved in the development of a product/service, delivery and post-sales support of a product/service or the pre-development market analysis of a product/service. The audits need to be conducted many times, to continuously track improvements, and identify new areas where improvements can be made.
To make the auditing process easier, a number of tools that can be used to break down the six characteristics of a process:
- The process has a clearly defined owner who is responsible.
- The process is clearly defined and understood.
- The steps of the process are documented – such as process flow charts, standard operating procedure documents, etc.
- Linkages within the process steps and external supporting processes are established.
- The process is monitored regularly.
- Records associated with the process are maintained – records such as accident reports, sales reports, etc.
An effective tool identifies these characteristics in a way that can be understood by management and verifies conformance to set guidelines – or ISO standards – step by step from input to output. It will also assist in the management of that process, including removing any waste or improving errors that arise.
Top Tools – Turtle Diagram
A top tool for this is Turtle Diagrams, where the path from input to output is clearly seen, along with those responsible for the process, the supporting processes and the documentation associated with the process. A Turtle Diagram combines each of the characteristics in clearly marked ‘legs’ so everyone from top management down to floor staff can follow and understand the process, without sifting through pages upon pages of documents.
For auditing purposes, a Turtle Diagram provides a clear snapshot of the process and can be linked to the supporting documents for a more thorough investigation. They can also be combined with other Turtle Diagrams within the organization to show linkages between them, from development through to delivery, so any wasteful steps in the entire process can be identified, and changes made.
Top Tools – Fishbone Diagram
If it is not always clear using a Turtle Diagram, or other auditing tools as to why a process is failing – whether failing in costs management or reducing waste, then a secondary tool can be used. That tool is the Fishbone Diagram, which delves deeper into the cause and effect of problems within a process.
Named because of its shape, the Fishbone diagram allows a team of staff to break down a problem – for example how to improve the bottleneck within a process – into easier to manage chunks. Focusing on aspects such as staff/people, rules/policies/procedures, resources and environment, they can then analyze each of these categories as they apply to the problem, continuing to do so until the root cause can be identified.
Used in conjunction with the 5 whys – keep asking why – once the root causes are identified, improvements can be suggested and implemented to improve the process and remove the root cause or find a way of managing it better.
There are many numbers of tools to be used when auditing a process, including a tree diagram, a V-cycle, that can be used to audit a process. The key is to find an audit tool that works for your organization and then do something with the results. Do not just do the audit and leave the results, take them and run PDCA – Plan, Do Check, Act – cycles continuously to improve the process.
Looking for the best tools to improve your processes and workflow performance? Click here to instantly download your FREE Fishbone and Turtle Diagram templates.