Six Phases of Process Improvement

The six phases of process improvement are listed below.  Click on the orange links below to view the detail for each of these phases.  More fully developed documents and templates for the six phases are available in the Process Improvement folder.


Phase 1:  Brainstorm Session

  • Identify a process to evaluate
  • Collaborative team input
  • Voting

Brainstorming is a technique used to spontaneously tap creativity to generate ideas. The goal is to produce as many ideas as possible, capturing ideas as they emerge. Once idea generation is exhausted, the pros and cons of each idea are considered, and solid candidates for process improvement are selected.


Invoke a brainstorming session to rapidly generate a lot of ideas or possibilities. ALL ideas are welcome / encouraged without constraint, critique or discussion.


This process captures the entire team's input, creativity, and 'out of the box' thinking.


Team members individually, without discussion, record their recommendations for process evaluation on sticky notes. These notes are then visibly displayed to the entire team.


Team members review ALL process evaluation recommendations and select their top 3 choices

  • This process helps move the team from many options to fewer options
  • Team members have an option to publicly support ideas
  • Team members review all options and select top processes that they believe warrant improvement

Top processes are presented to appropriate management for review.  Senior management selects and approves process(es) to undergo process improvement

Phase 2:  Create a Charter

  • Announce and authorize the work to be undertaken by the team
  • Develop boundaries of the process evaluation

A Charter is a statement of the scope, process boundaries, objectives, and resources that are authorized for the project.


A Charter is a tool used to announce and authorize the work to be undertaken by the team

Components of a Charter:

  • Identifies Sponsor - Supports process evaluation initiative and empowers the team to make changes
  • Identifies and describes the process to be evaluated/improved
  • Identifies the customers of the process and team members
  • Lists the resources authorized for the project team and identifies the decision-making authority of the team and role
  • Describes the problem to be solved
  • The problem statement is composed as a question as you cannot solve a problem without a clear understanding of the project
    • Example: I can't get my kids to clean up after themselves. I am constantly fighting with them to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher; i.e. "How do I get my kids to clean up after themselves?"
  • Sets the boundaries of the project, i.e. bookends
  • Establishes the primary project goals

Team members work collaboratively to create the Charter. A Project Charter Template is typically followed.

Phase 3: Develop Current State Process Map

  • Identify all the steps, decision points and major assumptions about the process and the way things are currently done

Current State is the terminology used to describe a series of workflows developed to depict business processes as they currently function. During Phase 3 a map is created to reflect all the steps of the process, who is responsible for each step, and the time it takes to complete each task.

There are several ground rules that are typically enforced during the development of the current state process map. These include:

  • Keep an open mind to change and maintain a positive attitude
  • Leave rank at the door; one person = one voice, regardless of position
  • Everyone on the team participates
  • Stay focused
  • Don't leave in silent disagreement
  • Practice mutual respect - do not interrupt; there are no dumb questions or ideas
  • Offer honesty
  • No blame - this is a blameless environment
  • The current state process map, described above, establishes a baseline that is used to determine changes that will improve effectiveness and productivity.
  • Sometimes a current state map may also be referred to as a value stream map or a swim lane diagram, depending on how the information is captured and is displayed.

A current state map allows you to:

  • See how a process is actually working

    • "What really happens next?"
  • Identify if there are any approvals required before proceeding
  • Determine if there is anything missing in the tasks identified

Before you move to improve, plan or make changes, you must know 'where you are' right now

  • Consider the straight through the process; be sure to include processes that are executed in parallel
  • Document each step in the process, but do not focus on exceptions as processes should not be developed based on exceptions but on straight through processes. If exceptions are a main source of concern, note them within the process map for future consideration.
  • Create Book Ends; develop clear boundaries for the start of the process and the end of the process; stay within the established bookends
  • As a team, identify all steps, including decision points, executed within the current process; understand that there may be variations
  • Critically evaluate the process flow chart; undercover opportunities to improve the process and better satisfy your customers
  • Document 'Bright Ideas' - these are ideas captured during the current state mapping process as ideas for future improvements; ensure these 'bright ideas' have either been addressed, incorporated or discarded as no longer needed when considering future state design.

Phase 4: Create Data Sheets / Evaluation

  • Measure cycle time
  • Measure work time
  • Identify resources performing tasks
After the Current State process map has been created, the next phase is the completion of Data Sheets, followed by an evaluation of the 'value-added' versus the 'non-value added' for each task.  A separate data sheet should be completed for each step/decision on the process map.

Data Sheets record specific details about each step in the process.  Each data sheet typically includes all or some of the following, depending upon whether or not the information can be identified:

  • Process Step
  • Min, Max, Typical Work Time: Actual time to complete a Task
  • Min, Max, Typical Cycle Time: Amount of elapsed time from the end of the previous process step to the end of the current step
  • Number of staff required to complete the step
  • Backlog: Amount of items waiting at this step
  • Time to Clear: If backlog amount of item it would take to clear the backlog
  • Estimate Value of Step to the process: High / Medium / Low

Understanding the value of each step, along with the amount of time needed to accomplish each step, provides the data needed to understand and measure what improvements and efficiencies are yielded through the process improvement exercise. This data ultimately helps determine the 'value-added' steps in the process, along with potential design criteria for the final future state map.

  • Rely on the team to develop best estimates based on the first-hand experience
  • Use consistent increments of time for all steps (minutes or hours) to save time on analysis
  • Consider special circumstances, such as legal requirements
  • Establish a Data Sheet template and use it for all tasks

Phase 5: Design Future State Process

Create a map depicting how the process will work after improvements to the process are implemented, which focuses on:

  • An improved process for the customer
  • Elimination of waste
  • Motivated employees
  • Reduced cycle time
Phase 5 is where you define what you would like to improve and a plan to achieve it.  After creating the current state map and evaluating the data sheets, the design of the future state process is achieved by creating a future state map.
WHAT? A future state map represents the ultimate goal of the improvement process and provides an objective to work towards.
WHY? It is a shared vision of what your team is hoping to achieve.  The goal of phase 5 is to design a process that better serves customers, motivates employees, and reduces 'non-value-add' tasks.
  • Study your current state map to identify areas of concern that need to be improved; ask these questions:

    • Can tasks be eliminated?
    • Can tasks be combined with others?
    • Can tasks be performed in parallel with other tasks?
    • Do tasks take too long?  If so, why?
    • Is a task subject to periodic 'loops' or rework cycles?
    • Should tasks be performed by someone else?  Would there be better value added?
  • Validate that bookends (Start/Stop boundaries) remain as previously defined
  • Determine improvement opportunities based on analysis/data
  • Incorporate 'Bright Ideas'
  • Identify obstacles or challenges in the transition from the current state to the future state
  • Eliminate or reduce weaknesses in the process (i.e. handoffs, redundancies, non-value-add steps)
  • Consider what would this process look like in a world-class university (i.e. benchmarking competitors, best practices in the industry)
  • How would the process look in a world with no constraints?
  • Think 'outside' your own experiences and expertise

Phase 6: Develop Implementation Plan

  • Complete milestone tasks to transition
  • Establish delivery timeframes
  • Assign ownership to accomplish tasks
  • Develop a Communication Plan
Once the future state design is complete, a plan for implementation needs to be developed to ensure that the improvements are executed and the benefits realized.  It is also important that, once a process has been improved, an initial baseline performance level be established.  This is vital for continual measurement to determine how well the improved process is meeting expectations.

The implementation plan identifies everything that needs to happen in order to implement the future state. It includes final delivery timeframes, milestones, and key tasks necessary to ensure success.


The resources needed to complete the items of the plan are identified, and accountability is established. The start, duration, and end dates of each item are clearly stated.



  • Who will be affected by the change?
  • How can change be implemented?
  • Outline what resources will be needed to execute (i.e. people, money, equipment, information, etc.)

Develop an action/implementation plan, focusing on:

  • Training needs
  • Internal communication
  • Customer communication
  • Transition plan
  • Documenting the process
  • Technology requirements, if needed
  • Measurement systems
  • Job description changes

Articulate a story for the sponsor and 'sell' the new process change; receive Sponsor approval to proceed with implementation