How to Choose the Right Business Process Improvement Methodology

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Improving your competitive advantage is always your top business priority. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is to focus on the quality of your organization’s processes. But with so many competing claims about process improvement methodologies, you may be unclear about which one will have the most impact. Let’s evaluate which approach will work best for you by narrowing down how to choose the right business process improvement methodology for your goals.

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A Brief History of Process Improvement Methodologies

The need to identify inefficiencies is not new. In the 1970s and ’80s, Total Quality Management (TQM) revolutionized manufacturing when American executives and even the U.S. Navy began adopting Japanese-style quality improvement methods. At the heart of TQM is customer satisfaction and a corporate culture of continual improvement. This approach evolved into “branded” methodologies for process improvement: Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, Agile Management, Customer Experience Management (CEM), Just-in-Time, Kanban, and dozens of iterations and movements that either expand or distill earlier methodologies’ core principles.

What Business Process Improvement Can Do

Call it business process management (BPM), business process improvement (BPI), or continual improvement process (CIP), but whatever your favored term, business process improvement methodologies help you identify, analyze, and improve your organization’s processes in four key ways:

  • Minimize errors
  • Reduce waste
  • Improve productivity
  • Streamline efficiency

Any enterprise can suffer from inefficient processes. If yours needs to improve its products, services, customer experience, or standing in a rapid-change marketplace, BPI methodologies should be part of your toolkit. Competitive advantage, of course, is the overriding goal, but organizations also often employ process improvement methodologies to better comply with government regulations.

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Let’s Compare the Methodologies

Whether your target is boosting productivity, employee retention, compliance, or your organization’s bottom line, you can improve daily execution by selecting the most appropriate and effective process improvement methodology.

Six Sigma

Developed at Motorola in the early ’80s, this methodology was made so popular by General Electric that almost every Fortune 500 company jumped on the Six Sigma train in the ’90s. Six Sigma focuses on the elimination of defects and variance. The goal is achieving accurate and replicable outcomes. Which is to say, there will be math. You will use statistics and empirical methods to form the basis of a defined sequence of steps. For example, a health care company might use Six Sigma to improve pharmaceutical delivery methods, or a window manufacturer might radically reduce costs by changing a single element of its assembly process.

Heard a colleague float the acronym DMAIC? It’s Six Sigma-ese for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. Another sequence of steps is known as DMADV, for define, measure, analyze, design, and verify. Six Sigma is a good choice for you if you want a step-by-step, controlled approach to quality. Its principles work as well for small businesses as they do for giant conglomerates.

Because it is a top-down methodology, Six Sigma emphasizes buy-in from the entire organization via the commitment of top management and the progressive mastery of skills through its karate belt promotion and mentoring system. Six Sigma techniques have been hybridized with other methodologies, including Design Thinking and Lean.


Derived from Toyota’s corporate culture of customer focus, Lean has an ethos of waste-elimination, specifically, doing away with any process, service, or product that offers no added value to the customer. Value is anything a customer will pay for, and waste could be anything from overproduction to waiting to defects in a product. Eliminating wasteful steps helps you elevate quality and productivity while reducing costs and lead time.

Less technical than some methodologies, Lean and its variants (such as 5S and Kaizen) can be more accessible and easier to implement companywide. There often is a visual element: Lean professionals employ diagrams, flow charts, and process maps to identify the parameters of the process improvement project and its planned outcomes.

Enterprises of every size in every industry implement Lean for single projects as well as end-to-end processes. For example, Canadian fast-food chain Tim Hortons has used Lean techniques to fine-tune its supply chain as well as manage its day-to-day local staffing needs based on customer demand.

The Best of Both Methodologies: Lean Six Sigma

A powerful and practical hybrid of both Six Sigma and Lean methodologies that has saved Fortune 500 companies $427 billion over the past two decades, Lean Six Sigma encourages collaboration to systemically eliminate waste and improve processes. The bonus is that this methodology is designed to be more than a problem-solving device. It can work as the catalyst for a positive cultural change in your overall organization.

So, how to do the principles of Lean and Six Sigma work together? Lean identifies waste and improves efficiency; Six Sigma reduces variance and improves performance. Together, they change your organization’s belief system, encouraging your team to embrace the idea that all processes can be improved.

A university researcher compared the common characteristics of top process improvement methodologies and scored them on their effectiveness. The conclusion: “The combination of Lean and Six Sigma is proving to be the best approach developed yet. It adds more tools, looks at more situations, and achieves results faster than Six Sigma alone.”

Earn Your Lean Six Sigma Belt With USF

You can master the skills to decrease waste, increase profit, and streamline your organization’s efficiency with the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification (in eight Saturdays) or Black Belt Certification (in 10 Saturdays) at USF. It’s a win for your organization and a win for your career: Lean Six Sigma professionals earn an annual average of $16,826 more than those without training and enjoy a faster track to promotions than their non-certified counterparts.

We would love to discuss your interest in process improvement. Contact us today at USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education to plan your next step.