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What is process optimization?

Process optimization involves automating core processes for greater efficiency, speed, and safety via technology-driven solutions.

It’s a useful tool for businesses undergoing digital transformation and can improve the quality of a product or service, aid in risk management, and cut costs across the organization. Perhaps most importantly, it streamlines operations and simplifies project management, freeing up personnel and creating more opportunities for strategic growth.

Steps to optimize business processes

No two businesses are alike, but most follow the same general approach when it comes to process optimization: set goals, find out what’s working (and what’s not working), try something new, and of course, study the results. Continuous improvement means frequent testing to uncover areas for improvement and creating a step-by-step approach can help you get consistent results.

Step 1: Set goals

To get somewhere, you have to know where you are, first. Identify existing processes that could benefit from optimization – workflows that consistently yield poor results, slow down teams, and cost your business time and resources when audits come around.

Step 2: Identify what is (and isn’t) working

Once you identify areas where business operations could be better, consider what’s holding them back. Are outdated tools and ways of working tripping up personnel? Is persistent human error creating costly mistakes or gaps in security? Be sure to make note of what works well, too.

Step 3: Create new processes

It’s time to create your new and improved process. Using your initial findings from step three, create a new process that attempts to reconcile your old process’s weaknesses or imperfections. Remember, when it comes to process integration: one at a time. If you change up every step at once, it will be difficult to isolate sources of error during the next step.

Step 4: Study the results

As your new processes take effect, be sure to record any changes in productivity, costs, and other variables across your business. The data you gather during this phase will play a significant role in your approach to process analytics (that is, key takeaways you can use to keep improving your new processes as time goes on).

Step 5: Rinse and repeat

…Or go back to Step 2 and begin again.

Optimizing business processes is a never-ending – well, process! There will always be opportunities to improve your ways of working, especially as new technology and tools become available. Keep gathering data, keep looking for knots in your workflows, and keep testing old (and new) processes. The more information you collect, the better you’ll come to understand what works for your business – and of course, what doesn’t.

Process optimization methods

Process optimization isn’t new. Professionals all over the world, across all sorts of industries, have been tinkering, testing, and trying out new ways of working for centuries. From Japan to the Netherlands to the United States, there are dozens of strategies to choose from, each offering a unique take on workflows, productivity, efficiency, and analytics.

Six Sigma

Of all the methods listed here, you’re most likely to have already heard of this one. Originally created to improve quality control in manufacturing settings, Six Sigma is a well-known set of process improvement tools. Today it is used by professionals in many other industries. Its core tenets posit that business success hinges on organization-wide commitment to reducing process variation.


While we’re talking about Six Sigma: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, and verify) are both terms you’ll see frequently mentioned alongside this strategy. DMAIC is a tool that drives many Sigma Six projects but isn’t exclusive to it, while DMADV is specifically a Sigma Six framework.


Kaizen (roughly translated as “improvement”) is a Japanese term that describes any business activity that continuously improves outcomes. Think of it as the overseas cousin of lean manufacturing – kaizen is all about reducing waste and eliminating redundancies across teams and processes.

Process mining

First coined by Dutch computer scientist Wil van der Aalst, the term “process mining” refers to a group of techniques for gleaning actionable insights from event logs. Process mining techniques are especially useful for gathering data when a process is ill-defined, or when the existing data concerning that process isn’t reliable.


Originating in a 1920s telephone manufacturing factory, the PDSA – plan, do, study, act – cycle was one of the earliest continuous improvement strategies on the business scene. It was also one of the most accessible: because many workers lacked the scaffolding to understand the scientific method, PDSA was easy to understand and apply to everyday processes.


Born in the 80s, yet alive and well in Six Sigma methodologies, SIPOC (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers) is a tool used primarily for defining business processes. You might see it written as COPIS sometimes, but it will always appear in table format.

Value stream mapping

Value stream maps visually showcase the journey of a product or service from its point of origin until it reaches the customer. It highlights key steps in a process while accounting for time and volume. The chart format allows for quicker waste reduction (or lean operation creation).


Never underestimate the value of a helping hand. Most businesses are no strangers to BPO (business process outsourcing). Outsourcing operations to a third party can offer an organization greater flexibility, as well as reduce costs and improve quality control.

Benefits of business process optimization

Process optimization strategies are valuable things to have in your business toolkit. Whether the zen-like aesthetic of kaizen or the juggernaut Six Sigma speaks more to your personal philosophy, it’s well worth your time to explore different approaches and consider how your organization could benefit. They might seem different, but they all share at least one core goal: a commitment to ongoing process improvement to gain a competitive advantage in your industry. (And that’s just one of the benefits).

Risk reduction

Gaps in processes can leave businesses vulnerable to security threats. Standardizing those processes makes it easier to isolate weak spots. Plus, reducing risks means incurring fewer audits (and fewer audit costs).

Quality control

When errors are easy to find and eliminate thanks to process optimization – that is, continuous monitoring, testing, and improvement – product quality automatically improves, too.

Resource management

Mapping out your business processes will show you where your resources are going at each step, which in turn will show you exactly where waste, surpluses, or shortages are occurring.

Fewer costs

At its most basic, process optimization emphasizes waste reduction. That means getting rid of errors, frivolous expenses, and bottlenecks that cost a little at a time (which adds up to a lot).

Smoother operations

Improved processes help workflows flow more smoothly. With fewer time-wasters and points of error, teams are free to focus on performing assigned tasks without distractions or interruptions

Examples of process optimization

The benefits of process optimization aren’t limited to just one kind of team, workflow, business, or industry. There are endless scenarios in which improved processes can transform ways of working across a department or even an entire organization.

For example, consider the logistics of any manual, paper-based process. (Let’s use paid time off.)

PTO requests are time-sensitive events that require sign-off from multiple parties: employee, supervisor, human resources, and sometimes others. The form originates with the employee and may take days to reach the proper party, especially if that party is away from their desk or out of the office, and especially if that person is in another department or building altogether. Finally, a record of that request has to be created by hand, by a human, then physically stored.

With technology-driven process optimization, paid time off can become fully digital and automated. No more printing PTO requests: the employee simply fills out an electronic form and clicks submit. In seconds (not minutes, or even hours) the next party receives the requests, wherever they may be – at their desk, or on their phone in another city. And, if multiple parties automatically receive electronic copies of the request, more people are available to approve it. Electronic records are automatically generated and stored for posterity.

Nintex tips for successful process optimization

Just starting your process optimization journey? We’ve got you covered with useful tips and tricks for getting the most out of whichever approach you’ve chosen.

Get everyone involved

Continuous improvement is an organization-wide commitment. When everyone is on board, from employees to management to stakeholders, everyone pulls in the same direction. It’s also an opportunity to share insights and value across teams.

Change one thing at a time

If you’re planning a complete overhaul of your business processes, don’t flip the master switch just yet. Introduce new practices and ways of working one at a time. Then, you can see direct (and isolated) effects that won’t get lost in the noise of other data from other processes you’re testing.

Data, data, data

Gather as much of it as you can. Data will help you understand what you’re doing right, when and where it’s happening. It will also show you where things could be done better. Use it to adjust your processes accordingly and test new initiatives.

How Nintex can help you optimize your business processes

Process optimization is what Nintex does best. Our technology lets the work flow with AI-powered insights, easy-to-use low-code tools, and solutions for every team in every department. Get better views of your current processes and pinpoint areas ripe for improvement – you’ll love the savings and efficiency, and your personnel will love the time Nintex frees up for strategic thinking and mid-afternoon coffee runs.