There are thousands of tools that can be used for process improvement. The tools range from highly analytical tools like MatLab and RStudio to a simple pad of paper and a pencil. The following is a list of tools that are essential to master for anyone that is concerned with process improvement. These tools help identify, test, and improve processes by adding visibility to the system itself.
Data is the backbone of process improvement. While lately it seems Excel has been losing ground to some more advanced data analysis tools, it is still the most widely used tool for data analysis. Excel is especially useful for data analytics for process improvement when it is combined with its ability to use VBA. VBA provides Excel with the capability of performing programmatic data analysis, which makes it possible to look more deeply into the data. For anyone interested in process improvement learning Excel and VBA is a necessary first step in their journey.
Sometimes the most important part of a process improvement project is defining the current process. Visio is a great tool for creating process maps. With hundreds of templates including value-stream mapping, flowchart, swimlane, fishbone diagrams, etc. Visio provides the capability to understand how a process currently works. Often once the process is diagramed it becomes fairly easy to identify what needs to be changed in order to improve the process.
What type of list would this be without suggesting OPS (Online Process Simulator) as a tool for process improvement?... While this tool is most certainly the least well known on this list, it is indeed very useful. It provides a bridge between the mapping capability of Visio and the advanced analytical capability of a fully functional discrete-event simulation software. Once the area for improvement has been identified in the Visio diagram, OPS provides the capability to test how various changes would affect the overall system. This ability to experiment on the virtual system provides crucial insight for anyone involved in process improvement.
Discrete-Event Simulation Software
OPS, Visio, and Excel are all useful in analyzing and visualizing a process, but they do not provide the critical analytical capabilities that are present in a fully functional discrete-event simulation product. Some examples of these products include FlexSim, Witness, ProModel, and Arena. For a DES, FlexSim is our product of choice due to its ease of use and unmatched ability to visualize, analyze, and optimize complex systems. However, any discrete-event simulation software can provide insight into the most complex of systems, which is why it is an essential part of the toolkit for anyone doing process improvement.