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Improving field process improvement: Achieving maximum impact with minimal disruption

December 11, 2020

Organizations that continually increase efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction all have this in common: They embrace Field process improvement.

Sometimes called business process management (BPM), business process improvement (BPI), continual improvement process (CIP) or business process re-engineering, process improvement is a business methodology aimed at minimizing errors and waste and increasing efficiency and productivity.

Actually, there are several different process-improvement methodologies, each with a slightly different approach. A few of the most popular are: 

  • Six Sigma, which breaks down process improvement through specific steps, such as define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC).
  • Kaizen focuses on improving quality and productivity through small shifts in daily practices and corporate culture.
  • Total Quality Management (TCM) aims to foster a culture of continuous improvement toward a shared goal and where employees aren’t afraid to make mistakes.
  • Process mapping, which uses a flow diagram to visualize a process workflow from start to finish.

Whatever methodology you use, the goal is to identify problems within your business processes, apply changes to fix them, and then analyze the effectiveness of those changes.

Obstacles to field process improvement

As any process improvement manager can attest, people are resistant to changing the way they do things. Especially when your teams:

  • Have been following the same procedures for years
  • Work alone in the field rather than together in the same building
  • Feel burdened by the complexities of field process improvement framework and/or new technology

This presents an obvious challenge to the whole exercise, especially when you’re working with employees who feel that process improvement is your job and not theirs.

Buy-in from your team members is critical to successful implementation. If they don’t see the value in doing things a different way than they’re used to (or, worse, if a new procedure makes their lives more difficult), you won’t get far.

A lack of accurate, actionable data is another obstacle to successful process improvement. If you can’t measure changes in the time and cost associated with your operations, how can you know whether your implementation was successful? More importantly, how can you prove it to leadership?

You hear a lot about leveraging technology for process improvement, but technology in itself is not a solution — in fact, it can complicate things rather than make them better. Unfortunately, technology often introduces more complexity and requires people to be more adaptable than they might be.

The new generation of no-code and low-code application platforms, however, empower non-developers to optimize processes through mobile technology quickly, even across geographically dispersed teams. (In fact, because these platforms are often focused on a specific problem — the way Fulcrum is focused on field inspection management — you might not even realize that they’re no-code platforms.)

Simplifying process optimization

Once you’ve overcome employee resistance to field process improvement as a concept, you’re still faced with the challenge of ensuring they follow new procedures. Checklists are a good way to guide people through a new process and ensure nothing gets missed, but paper checklists are cumbersome and inefficient.

Instead, introducing new checklists as part of a dynamic mobile app-based workflow improves process optimization not only by ensuring your teams do things right, but by automating those workflows to creating even more efficiency.

With a field inspection management platform like Fulcrum, employees can access the most up-to-date inspection checklists and standard operating procedures (SOPs) from the mobile device they’re already carrying. Once they’re through the process, they simply hit “Save” and anyone with access can instantly verify that the job was done correctly.

Fulcrum can also send automatic notifications — either to the process improvement manager, a supervisor, or any other stakeholder — that a job is complete and ready for them to sign off on, or to alert other team members when action is required. For example, if an employee makes a selection within the checklist indicating that a streetlamp needs to be repaired, it might trigger an email or text alert to order the part.

This frees up your employees to move onto the next task rather than calling the maintenance manager or shuffling paperwork from place to place.

Finally, all of your data is stored in one place, which increases visibility, repeatability, and control. And because modifying your Fulcrum-based processes doesn’t require the expertise of a software developer, it’s easy to continuously optimize your process and deploy updated checklists to your teams.