A question we often hear is: “What’s the best way to improve business processes?” More often than not, this is a backhanded way of asking, “Which ‘fad of the day’ is the best approach to process improvement?” While fads have come and gone over the years — including Reengineering, Total Quality Management (TQM), Value Analysis, Six Sigma, and Lean — the answer has really remained the same: The best way to improve business processes depends on your objectives.

Each of the process improvement fads mentioned above brought several improvement capabilities forward. Reengineering gave us the “clean sheet of paper” concept that has yielded many innovative transformations of processes. TQM put the customer center stage by improving processes to standards that were important to the customer. Value Analysis took a different approach depending on where the process segment fell in the Importance-Reliability-Cost matrix. Six Sigma helped organizations gain statistical control of their processes to reduce or eliminate errors. And last but not least, Lean is helping businesses remove waste and improve flow. Add to this list of highly publicized approaches, a few others that have proven effective, like Value Analysis, FAST Diagrams and Strategy-Driven Process Design, the last being a popular one that starts with setting the strategy and guiding principles, and then designing or redesigning to them. All of these are really good things.

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