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What is a process improvement plan and how do you create one?

Whether you are at the beginning of your improvement journey or in a fully integrated system, a process improvement plan is a staple of ensuring that you can plan, execute and track your activity. Read on to discover what a process improvement plan is and how you can create your own.

Written by: James Milsom, Head of Marketing


In order for your business to achieve its strategic goals, there are many routes that can be taken – daily management, continuous improvement, and strategic transformation.

Each of these variants involves a determined length of view, that meaning the amount of time involved in the approach and the type of results that are generated.

In the instance of continuous improvement, it is a concerted effort to create incremental benefits in your operating processes by identifying and optimizing areas that lose time, money, or negatively impact your customers’ experience.

However, how you adopt and manage continuous improvement can be through any number of frameworks, such as Lean or Six Sigma, and what results are clear plans you can follow to ensure you are approaching continuous improvement with rigor and realizing the benefits you have projected.

Today we are addressing the process improvement plan. From what this means and the benefits associated, with the challenges and examples of how to create one yourself, this is what you need to know about process plans in the continuous improvement world.


What is a process improvement plan?

In its purest form, a process improvement plan details the steps which must be taken to identify, track, analyze and optimize a process, and deliver greater value than previously measured.

The improvement plan will offer a roadmap of activity for your team to attack the challenge head-on and incorporates many common tools such as:


Within the plan itself, there are typical elements, such as:

1) Process boundaries / scope

A clearly defined process plan, much like a project plan, begins with the scope – what is the process we intend to address, and why are we addressing this. This is often thought of by describing inputs and outputs or processes, stakeholders, and any other pertinent information.

2) Process configuration

Much like with value stream mapping, here there is a graphical representation of the existing process, along with the inputs, outputs, and stakeholders that are involved.

3) Process metrics

In order to measure the efficiency of your process, there will be a set of metrics that can be referred to – these will be the key performance indicators to chart progress as the improvement plan unfolds. It is important to have past indicators of performance to hand so that comparisons can be made.

4) Process objectives

To ensure that your process improvements are focused on their efforts and assigned resources you should set a series of objectives. What do you want to achieve from the process improvement plan, and connect these to the metrics.

What results is a well-defined document detailing the what, how, and why when it comes to process improvement. This plan will ensure constant motion and development of your performance in regard to the process.

And, ultimately, the teams and managers involved in the process will be able to remove any bottlenecks across many other areas of your operations – it truly is a replicable process.


Why should you create a process improvement plan?

We have written before about the value of continuous improvement, but not specifically the role that process improvement plans play in creating value.

The most obvious reason is to say that process improvement plans bring structure and rigor to your efforts. Instead of attempting to address different processes in a myriad of ways, the process improvement plan introduces repeatable, effective controls for planning, executing, and tracking your efforts.

Moreover, that repeatable process is one that can be easily transplanted across teams, divisions, and companies, all the while making it easier to introduce new employees to the ways of continuous improvement.

And, like with all things process improvement, by creating a plan you can analyze the success of that process itself. By refining and gathering data on the duration and efficacy of your process improvement plans, you can begin to map out further activities and budgets for their existence within your business.

If you also consider the environment you are competing in, continuous improvement has the power to offer a competitive advantage. By adopting process improvement plans you are putting in place the foundations to deliver more improvement plans, more benefits, and more of an advantage against competitors.

And that is just the beginning of the ‘why should you create process improvement plans’. Consider these benefits:

1) Enhanced customer experience 

Your process improvement plans are essentially about one stakeholder – your customer. By executing more improvements you are delivering a better experience for your customers, which in turn results in better commercial results for your organization.

2) Learning 

If customer value is the primary benefit of process improvement plans, embedding a learning environment is a closed second. Learning cultures are those which keep employees happier, more fulfilled, and inspired to innovate and push further ahead of competing organizations.

3) Engagement and participation 

Your team feels more involved in delivering value with their BAU but in a structured and measured manner.


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What are some common challenges of process improvement plans?

As with any new process, there are several challenges you must be wary of. For process improvement plans, here are some regular themes:

1) Genuine participation

Process improvement will allow anyone with a voice that can offer insight and value to be part of the effort. However, this can bring a range of skills and personalities.  

Your process improvement plan must involve the right stakeholders. Too many loud voices could drown out the much quieter, but equally, or more so, valuable people. Consider a stakeholder mapping exercise.

2) Poor scoping 

Like anything in life, if you are not clear on your direction and objectives, distractions are the bane of success. Ensure that key stakeholders agree on the scope of the process involved.

Do not approach multiple processes at once. Plans should address one process – if this is a supporting process, then have multiple plans to address the overall process in question. Systematically address these.

3) Focusing on bells and whistles 

The process improvement plan will create an incredibly useful guide on how to go about running your improvement efforts. However, do not become beholden to the visual power of value stream maps, flowcharts, diagrams, and other tools.

Ensure that the focus of conversations is on the process itself. Indeed, illustrating the process is valuable, but the crux of the issue is to identify ways to improve the process, not to marvel at the current state.

4) Terminology 

Be mindful of the varying understandings of the terminology used in your process improvement efforts. Perhaps include a list of standardized terminology in the plan alongside the other standard elements to limit deviation. 


How do you create a process improvement plan?

The means by which you go about creating the process improvement plan itself are well-traveled and with good cause – they are effective.

Follow these steps to ensure a successful process improvement plan: 

1) Create your process map

In order to create your improvement plan, you must begin by finding the processes which are causing the loss of value to your customer.

That can begin with something as simple as walking the factory floor or surveying customers. From here you can map out the entire end-to-end process with a value stream mapping exercise.

2) Analyze your process

With your process mapped out, you can then begin to look at data (quantitative and qualitative) which can indicate where issues may exist.

A useful approach in this instance is to look towards the root cause analysis toolkit – a standard list of improvement solutions that will help you to get to the main cause of the issue. These include staples such as the 5 Whys, Pareto, and Fishbone.

3) Hypothesize a new process

Having identified the root causes it is time to create experiments to remove the bottlenecks. Generate a list of suggestions to test and note down what your expectations are from this process redesign.

Seek input from those knowledge holders and subject matter experts closely related to the process in question.

4) Create your improvement plan

This is where you begin to address the elements at the beginning of this blog. Namely:

  1. Process boundaries / scope
  2. Process stakeholders
  3. Process configuration
  4. Process action plan (tasks, timeline etc.)
  5. Process metrics
  6. Process objectives 

5) Communicate and execute

To ensure participation and buy-in of your improvement plan communicate the document with the necessary stakeholders.

Collate, discuss and implement the feedback that you have received, and move into the execution phase of your process improvement.

6) Track and optimize

With the plan in place, you are now able to action the tasks and measure the results of your hypotheses.

Often you will find the need to refine your process redesign. However, thanks to the root cause analysis tools which are part of your improvement toolkit you will be able to identify why that redesign has failed.

By tracking and measuring yourself against your objectives you can optimize your process improvement as necessary.

Moreover, don’t forget to monitor the time it has taken to run through the improvement plan and use this as a benchmark for further efforts.


Continue learning about continuous improvement

Click here to learn more about continuous improvement beyond improvement plans, or take a look at these content recommendations:

About the author

James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus. James has wide-ranging experience in markets such as telecommunications, energy, education, and software.

As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.

If you’d like to talk more about Strategy Execution, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.