The practice of continuous improvement is based on making small incremental changes to existing processes over time. The idea is that a number of small incremental changes will equate to significant improvements in business operations. The business processes within an auto repair operation can prove to be quite involved when analyzed closely. Defining and documenting process steps may seem like a huge challenge at first but the end will justify the means in that significant improvements in quality and customer service can be realized. Following are steps to documenting the core processes in an auto repair operation:
- Document the Standard Steps in the Process – The standard steps involved in any business process are those that occur in all circumstances. In other words they aren’t dependent on conditions that don’t occur every time the process occurs. An example of an exception would be during the parts procurement process if a part is needed that isn’t supplied by a vendor the auto repair shop usually does business with and a supplier must be sought out and relationship must be established, etc. So exceptions are an important part of process definition as explained in the next bullet point. But it’s important that they be identified as such. The objective of this step is to document the steps of the process with an outline or a flowchart. They should be the steps that occur each time.
- Identify Exceptions to the Standard Process – In any given business process there may be conditions under which additional steps or a different path may be followed. For example when checking a customer in they may have transportation requirements and those requirements may vary. There may be loaner cars, rental cars, shuttle service, etc. And each possible variation may require different procedures. Each of these possibilities should be documented as sub-processes with clear distinction of the decision making required. The standard process may branch out into a sub-process under certain circumstances.
- Define Exception Handling Procedures – When there are exceptions that need to be handled in a business process the means by which they are dealt with can impact the effectiveness of the overall process. Also, the greater the number of exceptions in a given process the more complex it becomes. For example during the vehicle check in process the customer can wait for their vehicle while it’s worked on or possibly elect shuttle service, a loaner car, a rental car or valet service. Each of these options requires a different path to complete the check in process. Any one of these sub-processes can be a candidate for continuous improvement.
- Document Entry and Exit Points to the Process – In any given business process there can be one or more starting points and one or more ending points often referred to as entry and exit points. These entry and exit points are the procedures by which work is transferred between core business processes. These exchanges are in fact processes in and of themselves. An exit point for one core process can relate to the entry point of another. In auto repair an example of this would be the transfer of work from the service advisor to the technician. These entry and exit points are prime candidates for continuous improvement focus.