By John W. Moran and Grace L. Duffy
Too often, organizations ignore successes while they focus on problems that need immediate attention. Quality improvement tools and techniques are used extensively to solve problems, but those same methods can also be used to analyze successful processes. Understanding successful processes can give a management team insight on how to improve other processes and continually improve the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.
What are the attributes of a successful process?
Over the years, as we have come across successful processes, we have asked stakeholders to identify what they considered to be key factors contributing to success. We have collected the following list of attributes of successful processes. This is not an all-inclusive list, but you can use it to start analyzing your own successful processes.
How to analyze a successful process
One quality improvement tool that can help you analyze a successful process is a success and effect diagram, which is simply a hybrid of the popular cause and effect diagram.
Develop a success and effect diagram in a way similar to how you would construct a cause and effect diagram. Instead of using the five whys, use the five whats as your analysis tool.
Figure 1: Success and effect diagram template
Figure 2 is a success and effect diagram created to analyze a successful top-level organization correspondence process. The team identified headers specific to the successful process they were analyzing. For the header labels, they used the four major headers frequently used with cause and effect diagrams (people, method, material, and machine) to illustrate the parallel associations of the success and effect diagram discovery process.
Under the four major headers they asked what made this successful. The what question can be used on the subheads to drill down into the details of the success.
When finished with the success and effect diagram, the next step is deciding on the few whats to focus on that may cause the success being analyzed. Some—the low hanging fruit—are obvious. Others may require more research using additional quality improvement tools such as:
Success and effect diagram for top-level correspondence project
View in a pdf format
The five whats technique helps a team zero in on potential root success, as shown in Figure 3. Asking What made this process a success? helps the team stay focused on the analysis until it has identified the root success or successes.
To understand how the process of finding the root success works, consider how the team analyzed the main header of “materials” in the example in Figure 2. The first what starts with “Documents are on time, accurate, and consistent with applicable policy.” This is the observed success.
Next, the team repeated the what question to drill down into root success:
Figure 3: Finding root success using the five whats
There may be more than one root success that makes a process perform at an optimal level. Each main header needs to be analyzed to determine what made it successful. Many successful processes have compound successes, where different factors combine to make the process a success. Rarely does a successful process have a single root success.
One check that you can make after determining the top few root successes is to determine how the successful attributes relate to each other. You can use an interrelationship diagraph to determine if there are interconnections between the potential root successes. (See The Public Health Quality Improvement Handbook, by Ron Bialek, Grace Duffy, and John W. Moran, ASQ Quality Press, pages 199-201, for more information on the interrelationship digraph.) Determining these interconnections may show patterns that change your team’s decision on which root success(es) make the process effective.
Another approach is to use the root success analysis rating form shown in Figure 4. This matrix offers a way to prioritize the root success(es) uncovered using the success and effect diagram. The matrix allows your team to assess each potential root cause over a number of potential impact dimensions and develop a score. The score can help rank the potential root successes. The attribute having the most impact on process success is ranked No. 1.
Figure 4: Root success analysis rating form
Using quality improvement techniques and tools to analyze success gives a new dimension to continuous improvement processes. By understanding successful processes, you can uncover what is working well and transfer that knowledge to other processes to make them more efficient and effective. Using quality improvement techniques and tools to understand what makes you successful shines a light on the good work an organization does, not just the areas that fall short.
About the Authors
John W. Moran, Ph.D., Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE), Certified Quality Improvement Associate (CQIA), Certified Management Consultant (CMC), is senior quality advisor for the Public Health Foundation, an ASQ Fellow, and a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
Grace L. Duffy, Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE), Certified Quality Improvement Associate (CQIA), Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt (CLSSMBB), is a senior consultant with the Public Health Foundation and an ASQ Fellow.