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Scimitar Inc

Challenging Times Require a Disciplined Approach to Process Improvement

| Intended Reader

  • Operational and strategic leaders in life sciences
  • Improvement initiative leaders
  • Functional process owners

| Key Takeaways

  • Life science organizations must clearly define their processes in order to effectively prioritize improvement opportunities.
  • A defined process improvement approach helps organizations address ongoing headwinds in the industry with precision and structured planning, while saving valuable time and resources.
  • Once operational processes are well-defined, the organization’s leaders can more easily identify areas for improvement, including stakeholders at all levels.

5 minute read

There are countless challenges facing the life sciences industry currently. For starters, we are still experiencing lingering supply chain impacts that were brought about at the onset of the pandemic. At the same time, rapid growth has left experienced team members floundering with a lack of structured processes, and needing to manage an increasingly complex regulatory environment. 

With all these headwinds, it can become overwhelming for life science organizations to know how to respond and react. However, Scimitar has developed a clear approach to identifying and prioritizing process improvement opportunities in a way that is effective and valued by all stakeholders. 

Having worked in a variety of industries like life sciences, manufacturing, and process improvement for 15 years now, I offer clients a unique engineering perspective to these challenges. Plus, having a Six Sigma Black Belt certification provides structure and methodology for problem-solving. 

Key Idea

Across the board, our experience proves that clearly defining processes is a key step for life science organizations to effectively prioritize improvement opportunities.

The principles we will discuss here are not new and are universally true across industries. In fact, the car manufacturer Toyota is often credited as the founder of many of these principles through their Toyota Product System (TPS). But, our team applies similar principles to target challenges within life science organizations both big and small. 

Across the board, our experience proves that clearly defining processes is a key step for life science organizations to effectively prioritize improvement opportunities.

| Understanding the Need for Process Improvement

Life science executives and senior leaders must expertly navigate the ongoing challenges in order to lead their organizations to success.

As we discussed above, some of the roadblocks that organizations are facing are highly complex and unique to the life sciences industry–requiring precision and careful planning to overcome the headwinds and find improvements and efficiencies for their organizations. 

A defined process improvement approach can help organizations effectively address these challenges. It provides a more structured approach to solving issues, encourages collaboration across teams, helps organizations gain outside eyes on the problem, and proves the value of “going slow to go fast”

Bringing these benefits together results in a more targeted approach to addressing challenges and saves teams valuable time and resources. 

| Defining Processes for Improvement

Before organizations dive deep into process improvements, they need to first define what their processes are. Some examples include: 

  • Anytime you move items from point A to point B
  • When you change or transform something (like a document, a data set, a vial, etc.)
  • Communicating information

As organizations identify what their key processes are, they’ll be able to break them down into manageable segments for improvement and monitor progress over time. 

With this in mind, a process needs to be well-defined in order to support strong organizational performance. Here are some of the key elements of a well-defined process: 

  • Clear start and end points
  • Understanding of the process inputs and outputs
  • Mapped out steps and activities in the process
  • Established roles and responsibilities within the process 
  • Defined KPIs and metrics for process evaluation

No matter how commonplace the process is, strong documentation and standardization of process definitions are necessary at all stages to ensure regulatory compliance and better operational efficiency. The hardest part of someone’s day should not be tracking down the information they need to do their job.

The Benefits of Using Six Sigma

As an aside here, I want to highlight the advantages of the Six Sigma methodology for identifying improvement opportunities. Six Sigma is a set of management practices that help businesses improve processes by mitigating potential errors and defects. 

Above all, the goal of Six Sigma is to reduce variation in process outcomes across its five main phases: 

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Improve
  • Control

These phases can be applied to many processes, making it a versatile approach that organizations can adopt from the top down. In other cases, Six Sigma can be used to focus on lean principles, like eliminating waste or unnecessary steps in a process that don’t produce added value.

| Identifying Improvement Opportunities

With operational processes well-defined, the organization’s leaders can begin identifying potential areas for improvement. Even amid the changing work landscape, we have been able to help organizations identify improvement opportunities virtually, in person, or using a hybrid approach. 

We have found great success for our clients using the Kaizen approach of continuous improvement. Kaizen is a Japanese term that refers to a philosophy and approach that emphasizes making small, incremental changes and involving all employees in the process to continuously improve efficiency, quality, and overall business performance. In addition to Kaizen, there are many other methods and techniques to achieve process improvements depending on the organization’s scope, timeline, goals, and budget. Such techniques include: 

  • Process mapping and analysis
  • Value stream analysis
  • Root cause analysis
  • Data analysis and process metrics

Each of these approaches can help guide the organization to discover weak processes that may be detracting from their efficiency and quality of their output. 

At all stages of process improvement, key stakeholders must play a central role–particularly when we’re identifying potential improvement areas. In fact, if the right players aren’t involved, it may actually result in a negative impact. 

Through collaborative sessions, we gain a prime opportunity to receive their input and get a cross-functional perspective to help us identify the process improvements that would result in the most impact.

| Prioritizing Improvement Opportunities

Each stakeholder has their own set of priorities, so how can we all find the time to conduct these exercises and then follow through on the work required for process improvement afterward?

As such, it’s critical to align improvement opportunities with organizational goals and strategies. This ensures strong stakeholder support and buy-in, and will prevent competing priorities from dominating the discussion. 

What I’ve found from working with life science organizations is that following a systematic approach to prioritization is necessary. This can typically include the use of an impact-effort matrix, value stream map analysis, or risk analysis to support objective decision-making and top-level organizational goals.

| Wrapping It All Up

To navigate the headwinds in the industry today, organizations must prioritize process improvement to enhance their operations’ efficiency and productivity. 

At Scimitar, I’ve seen that applying a structured approach to process improvement delivers the best results. This requires organizations to clearly define their processes before they can identify improvement opportunities. By leveraging helpful techniques like engineering principles and Six Sigma methodologies, life science organizations can optimize their process improvement efforts in a way that benefits all stakeholders.

About The Author

Shauna Planck is a Scimitar Engagement Manager and Operations Management Consultant with extensive experience in project and program management, business process management, and operational excellence. Her unique industry insights and creative problem-solving make her a sought-after consultant.

If you would like to learn more. Write to Shauna Planck at [email protected] or contact her on

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