Process Improvement Glossary

Process Improvement is the proactive task of identifying, analyzing and improving upon existing business processes within an organization for optimization and to meet new quotas or standards of quality. 


Action Plan

An agreed-upon set of actions or tactics that are the particular means used to achieve objectives.

Active Listening

Active Listening is a method used to listen and respond to others in a structured and deliberate way. It requires a listener to understand and actively evaluate what he or she heard.

Activity Diagram

An activity diagram is used to model a process. It models the actions (or behaviors) performed by the components of a business process or IT system, the order in which the actions take place, and the conditions that coordinate the actions in a specific order. Activity diagrams use swim lanes to group actions together. Actions can be grouped by the actor performing the action or by the distinct business process or system that is performing the action.

Affinity Diagram

A process to organize information by placing it on cards and grouping the cards that go together in a creative way. Header cards are then used to summarize each group of cards.


Agile is a general term and conceptual framework used to describe a number of “light-weight” methodologies, such as Extreme Programming (XP), SCRUM, and Rapid Application Development (RAD), which exhibit a series of common characteristics. Some of these characteristics include iterative analysis and development, time-boxed iterations of a predefined length, delivery of the most critical features and functions first, delivery of a complete build with an initial set of limited features within a few months (often 1-2 months), small cross-functional teams usually of 6-9 team members, daily team communication meetings, and reduced levels of documentation.

Alternative Flow

An alternate flow describes a use case scenario other than the basic flow that results in a user completing his or her goal. It is often considered to be an optional flow and implies that the user has chosen to take an alternative path through the system.


The examination of facts and data to provide the basis for effective decision making.


A technique in which a company measures its performance against that of best-in-class companies, determines how those companies achieved their performance levels and uses the information to improve its own performance. Subjects that can be benchmarked include strategies, operations and processes.

Black Belt

Leaders of a team responsible for measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling key processes that influence customer satisfaction and/or productivity growth. Black Belts are full-time positions.


A step of a process that limits the capacity of a larger process or system. By removing or improving the bottleneck, the process is able to achieve greater results. Also known as a ‘constraint.’

Business Analysis Planning and Monitoring

Describes how a business analyst determines which activities will be needed to complete the business analysis effort. The tasks within this knowledge area govern the business analysis tasks in all of the other knowledge areas.

Business Drivers

Crucial factors (people, information, conditions such as market forces, processes, etc.) that lead to the success of the organization.

Business Process

A series of steps or actions that lead to a desired result or output. A set of common tasks that creates a product, service, process or plan that will satisfy a customer or group of customers.

Business Process Re-engineering

A process used to identify, analyze and restructure an organization’s core business processes with the aim of achieving dramatic improvements in critical performance measures, such as cost, quality, service, and speed.

Business Drivers

Crucial factors (a person, information, conditions such as market forces, processes, etc.) that lead to the success of an organization.

Business Entity Model

A business entity model is a logical model that documents the entities or things, that a business or business process uses and interacts with in order to accomplish its business activities and goals. In addition to documenting entities, a business entity model may capture the attributes of an entity, relationships between entities, and cardinality information. Many business entity models are created in the form of a class diagram.


Certified Business Analysis Professional. The Certified Business Analysis Professional certification (CBAP certification) is the designation given to those professionals who sit for and pass the CBAP exam. For this reason, the term CBAP is often used as a shorthand term to refer to the CBAP exam itself.


Certification of Competency in Business Analysis. The Certification of Competency in Business Analysis (CCBA) is the designation given to those professionals who sit for and pass the CCBA exam. The CCBA is an intermediate stepping stone for those business analysts who do not meet the more stringent requirements of the CBAP.


Team document defining the context, specifics, and plans of an improvement project; includes business case, problem and goal statements, constraints and assumptions, roles, preliminary plan, and scope. The charter is to be reviewed with the sponsor to ensure alignment and revised or refined periodically throughout the DMAIC process based on data. Starwood has used the Project Definition Form on the E-SIXSIGMA Tool in order to capture the Charter information.

Class Diagram

A class diagram describes the structure of a system by showing the classes of a system, the attributes, and operations that belong to each class, and the relationships between the classes.

Communication Diagram

A communication diagram is a diagram which models the objects or parts of a system, the interactions (or messages) between them, and the sequence in which these interactions occur. A communication diagram models this as a free-form arrangement of objects or parts of a system. The free-form arrangement of objects lends itself well to showing the sequenced interactions in a more compact space.

Communication Plan

A guide to the communication and sponsorship efforts throughout the duration of the project. It is a living and working document and is updated periodically as the audience needs change. It explains how to convey the right message, from the right communicator to the right audience, through the right channel, at the right time. It addresses the six basic elements of communications: communicator, message, communication channel, feedback mechanism, receiver/audience, and time frame. A communication plan includes

  • “Who” – the target audience
  • “What” – the key messages that are to be articulated
  • “When” – timing, specifically, the appropriate time of delivery for each message
  • “Why” – the desired outcomes
  • “How” – the communication vehicle (how the message will be delivered)
  • “By whom” – the sender (who will deliver the information and how he or she is chosen)


A point in a process that acts as a limiting factor and prevents a system from achieving goals. There are three primary types of constraints: equipment, people and policy. Also known as a ‘bottleneck’.

Context Diagram

A context diagram is a special form of a data flow diagram that represents an entire system as a single process and highlights the interactions between the system being analyzed and other systems or people that interact with it.

Continuous Improvement

The ongoing improvement of products, services or processes through both incremental and breakthrough improvements. The organizational imperative for all employees to be perpetually engaged in improving all aspects of operations.

Convergent Thinking

Convergent thinking is the process of focusing on a few sets of ideas and evaluating them based on selection criteria in order to narrow down the available options.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Cost-Benefit Analysis is a technique used to determine if the financial benefits of a project outweigh the associated cost of undertaking the project in the first place. For a short term project where the benefit may be an immediate one-time cash windfall, this may be as simple as subtracting the total of all project costs from the total of all project benefits. If the total is positive, then the project may be worth completing.

Current State Process Map

A description of the current flow of work. This map is used as the basis of an analysis process that starts with the identification of waste and bottlenecks in the process, which will form the basis of the improvement plan.


The recipient of a product, service, information or other input. See “external customer” and “internal customer.”

Cycle Time

The amount of time required to complete a job or a step of a process.


A data visualization resource that displays the current status of metrics and performance indicators for an organization. A dashboard consolidates and arranges numerical results that are often produced on a periodic basis such as monthly or quarterly.

Database View

A database view is a stored query that returns data from one or more database tables. The stored query, or view, is a virtual table. Once you have defined a view, you can reference it just as you would any other table in a database. Since the view is the result of a stored query, it does not contain a copy of the data itself. Instead, it references the data in the underlying base tables.

Data Flow Diagram

A data flow diagram models the system as a network of functional processes and its data. It documents the system’s processes, data stores, flows which carry data, and terminators which are the external entities with which the system communicates.

Decision Table

A decision table is an unambiguous and compact technique for modeling complicated logic using several sets of conditions in a tabular format. It is often used to model logic that may otherwise require many sentences or paragraphs to convey.

Decision Tree

A decision tree graphically represents a series of decision points with branching occurring at each decision point forming a treelike structure. A decision tree maps out each possible outcome and will often also include the probability of each outcome.


The effort involved in inspecting for and fixing errors and mistakes.

A non-value added activity; a form of ‘Waste’.

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is the process of generating many ideas that branch out from an original topic or concept.


An abbreviation for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Refers to a data-driven improvement cycle used for improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes and designs.

  • Define: clearly articulate the business problem, goal, potential resources, scope and timeline.
  • Measure: establish current baselines as the basis for improvement. Data collection step. Identify the gap between current and required performance.
  • Analyze: validate and select root cause for elimination.
  • Improve: identify, test and implement a solution to the problem; in whole or in part.
  • Control: sustain the gains. Monitor the improvements to ensure continued and sustainable success.


Produces the desired quality result and works well as measured by the client, stakeholders and staff.


Able to function without waste (delays, excessive steps, duplication, underutilized people, too complicated) and capable of achieving the desired result with the minimum use of resources, time.


Describes the steps required to elicit requirements from stakeholders. It includes preparing for elicitation by identifying a combination of techniques that will be used; conducting the elicitation using the identified techniques, documenting the elicitation results, and confirming what has been documented.

Enterprise Analysis

Describes the business analysis activities required to compare the needs of the business against the current capabilities of the business and identify opportunities for improvement. Then, based on this information, the analyst can determine which solutions should be selected to resolve the issue. 

Entity Relationship Diagram

An entity-relationship diagram models the relationships between entities in a database. Standard symbols are used to represent different types of information. The conventional notation uses rectangles to represent entities (nouns), diamonds to represent relationships (verbs) and ovals to represent attributes of entities. Other notations are sometimes used.

Exception Flow

A use case exception flow is an unintended path through the system usually as a result of missing information or system availability problems. Exception flows represent an undesirable path to the user. However, even though the exception flow has occurred the system will ideally react in a way that recovers the flow and provide some useful information to the user.

Extra Processing

Those process steps that do not add value to the product of service, including doing work beyond a customer’s specifications. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.

Fact Model

A fact model is a static model which structures business knowledge about core business concepts and business operations. It is sometimes called a business entity model. The fact model focuses on the core business concepts (called terms), and the logical connections between them (called facts). The facts are typically verbs which describe how one term relates to another. 

Future State Process Map

A symbolic representation of a future vision for an improved work stream, a process flow that non-value added activities have been eliminated.

Gantt Chart

A project planning and management tool that displays all the tasks or activities associated with a project or initiative as well as the relationships/dependencies between these tasks. Resources, completion status, timing, and constraints are all shown in the chart.

Gap Analysis

Gap analysis is the process of comparing two things in order to determine the difference or “gap” that exists between them. Most often gap analysis is used to compare two different states of something; the current state and the future state.


Any time in a process when one person (or job title) or group passes the item moving through the process to another person; a handoff has the potential to add defects, time, and cost to a process.


The unnecessary storage of information and materials, or providing more information or materials than are needed. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.

Just-In-Time (JIT)

A system of production that provides what is needed only when it is needed.  


Lean is not an acronym. It is a term to describe a philosophy and approach for process improvement. It is the systematic, customer-centric approach to identifying and eliminating waste through continuous improvement.

Measures of Success

The criteria, metrics or means by which a comparison is made with output.


A standard from measurement. Metrics may have a number of characteristics such as the following:

  • Leading – a measurement that predicts future success or failure; sometimes called “windshield view,” these are used to predict outcomes.
  • Lagging – a measurement that depicts what has already occurred; sometimes called “rear view mirror view,” these may be used to determine corrective measures.
  • Quantitative – a numerical measurement of an outcome.
  • Qualitative – a non-numerical measurement of an outcome such as customer satisfaction.
  • Output – typically numerical and measures units of goods or services produced.
  • Outcome – can be quantitative or qualitative and measures broader impact.


The end of a stage that marks the completion of a work package (project management) or phase, typically marked by a high-level event such as completion, endorsement or signing of a deliverable, document or a high-level review meeting. A large complex project may have numerous milestones before the project is complete. 


Model-Based Management refers to the activity of managing and making an informed decision regarding the future direction of a business, process, or system(s) based on information gleaned and understood from models that document the current state.


The unnecessary movement of staff, resources or equipment that takes up time and uses energy but doesn’t add value to a service or product. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.

Non-utilized Staff Talent

When an organization is not adequately leveraging peoples’ skills, creativity, and talents. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.  

Non-value-adding activities

Any steps in a process that do not add value to the customer or process. Examples include rework, handoffs, inspection and delays. Also known as ‘waste’.

PDCA Method

A 4-step, iterative method commonly used for Business Process Improvement. PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check, Act. It is used to create a feedback loop based on measurable results and make incremental changes and improvements over time.


Trial implementation of a solution on a limited scale to ensure its effectiveness and test its impact.

Primary Actor

Primary actors are people or at times even other systems, that require the assistance of the system under consideration to achieve their goal. They initiate the use cases of the system (business processes or application functionality). A use case within the system may have more than one primary actor, since more than one type of role may initiate the processes or functionality of the system.

Process improvement

Improvement approach focused on incremental changes, involves solutions to eliminate or reduce defects, costs or cycle time; leaves basic design and assumptions of a process intact.

Process Mapping

Illustrated description of how things get done, which enables participants to visualize an entire process and identify areas of strength and weaknesses. It helps reduce cycle time and defects while recognizing the value of individual contributions. A type of flowchart depicting the steps in a process and identifying responsibility for each step and key measures. 

Process Owner

Process owners are exactly as the name sounds - they are the responsible individuals for a specific process. For instance, in the legal department there is usually one person in charge - maybe the VP of Legal - that's the process owner. There may be a Director of Marketing at your property - that's the process owner for marketing, and for the Check-in process, the process owner is typically the Front Office Manager.

Project Management

The process of organizing and managing resources to complete a project to specification, on time, within budget and to the customer’s satisfaction.

Project Sponsor

This member of the executive committee is a strong advocate of the project and can assist with barriers that may come up. He or she is accountable for the project's success and can, therefore, explain to Six Sigma Council members and everyone in the property the business rationale for the transfer project and assist with cross-functional collaboration efforts. He or she will remain up to date on key aspects of the project by regularly meeting with the team leader and members.

The project sponsor:              

  • Is a member of the Executive committee
  • Is accountable for project success
  • Addresses cross-functional or other barriers
  • Reviews and tracks progress with team leader
  • Advocates for necessary resources


A customer-driven system that produces and moves products/services only when the customer needs it. Pull system strive to eliminate over production.


Push systems produce and move products/services without regard for the actual pace of customer demand. As a result, the amount of work-in-process and effort may be wasted on unnecessary products or services.


Producing more products or services than the customer needs. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.

Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance is about Process. It describes the proactive method of establishing a process that is capable of producing a product or deliverable that is error or defect free.

Quality Control

Quality Control is about Products or Deliverables. It describes checking a final product or deliverable to ensure that it is defect or error-free and meets specifications.

RACI Matrix:

A project management tools that identifies all required tasks or activities and what parties are involved in those tasks as well as their level or type of involvement. A RACI is used to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities in a team environment. It alleviates problems and fosters a culture of accountability. A RACI is used to ensure clarity on roles and responsibilities in a team environment. It alleviates problems and fosters a culture of accountability.

  • R – Responsible: The person who performs the activity; the “doer”
  • A – Accountable: The person with ultimate approval power; the “buck stops here”
  • C – Consulted: A stakeholder who is involved prior to the task completion; “in the loop”
  • I – Informed: A stakeholder who is told of the outcome of the task or decision; the “keep in the picture”

Random sampling

A method that allows each item or person chosen to be measured, to be selected completely by chance.


A documented representation of a condition or capability. Specifically, one that is needed by a stakeholder to solve a problem or achieve an objective, or one that must be met or possessed by a solution to satisfy a contract, standard, specification.

Requirements Analysis

Describes the activities and methods used to analyze stated requirements and transform them into a potential solution which possesses the capabilities that will fulfill the stakeholder needs.

Requirements Management and Communication

Describes what is involved in managing and articulating requirements to a wide variety of stakeholders. It includes understanding the link between business or project objectives and the specific requirements that comes from them such that any change or clarification in the objectives will result in a revised set of requirements that reflect the business need.

Risk Management

Risk management is about thinking ahead and preparing for things that may go wrong. This includes identifying potential problems and putting together preventive and contingent action plans, in order to reduce the potential damage.


A role describes a related set of activities that a single person may regularly undertake in order to partially or fully complete a process or goal. A role is different than a job title. Roles, reporting structures, and other parameters may all be used in conjunction to define a job title.

Root cause analysis

A structured approach to identifying specific factors or actions that result in undesired outcomes.


Defines the boundaries of the process; clarifies specifically where the start and end points for improvement reside (for instance, room service delivery time from the time of the guest call to knocking on the guest door); defines where and what to measure and analyze; needs to be within the sphere of control of the team working on the project. The broader the scope, the more complex and time-consuming the improvement efforts will be.

Secondary Actor

A secondary actor is a person, business processes, or applications that provide a specific result or information to a use case in order for the end goal of the use case to be achieved. A secondary actor never initiates the use case. It is invoked by the system’s use cases in order to obtain the required information or result. There may be many secondary actors for a given system.

Sequence Diagram

A sequence diagrams is a diagram that depicts interactions among various application components or participants over time, including but not limited to system objects, actors, and other systems or services, in order to accomplish a task.

SIPOC Diagram

The SIPOC diagram is a tool that is used to outline the scope of a process improvement initiative (often as part of a Six Sigma improvement project). The tool captures all of the relevant elements of the process under consideration. The diagram’s name is an acronym for the elements that need to be identified and documented. (S) – Suppliers: Who supplies the inputs to the process under consideration, (I) – Inputs: What are the inputs to the process, (P) – Process: What are the steps of the process that is being improved upon, O – Outputs: What are the outputs of the process, C – Customers: Who are the customers or beneficiaries of the outputs of the process.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology. It is structured into 5 phases which can be iterated to continually improve key processes and deliver greater efficiencies and success within an organization. These 5 phases are Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.


Acronym for goals which satisfy the SMART framework: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

  • Specific – detail what is expected, why it’s important, who is involved, where it will occur and which attributes are important.
  • Measurable – allow progress to be clearly quantified and demonstrated.
  • Attainable – goals that stretch the employee but can be accomplished to motivate.
  • Relevant –answer the question of why the activity is worthwhile.
  • Time-bound – establish a sense of urgency by setting a deadline.

Clear, motivating, easily understood goals and result in a much higher likelihood of success.

Solution Assessment and Validation

Describes the activity of determining how closely a solution meets the original stakeholder and solution requirements as well as describe the activities that the business analyst should complete to ensure the successful implementation of solution.

Solution statement

A clear description of the proposed solution(s); used to evaluate and select the best solution to implement.


Any individual, group or organization that will have a significant impact on or will be significantly impacted by the quality of a specific product or service.

Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder Analysis is the process of identifying project stakeholders, how their needs may impact the project, and the contributions that the stakeholders will make to the requirements elicitation process.

Standard Work:

A method of doing critical tasks in a process that is documented, consistently followed, and currently believed to be the best way to do the work. Defines the tasks, sequence, and pace to ensure that demand is met on time, quality is consistent, workers are safe and fewer costs are incurred.


Systems Thinking

The process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning technique used to assess the internal and external environment in which a company operates and competes. Internal environmental factors are classified into strengths and weaknesses, while external environmental factors are classified into opportunities and threats.


A review session that determines whether activities up to that point in a project have been satisfactorily completed. Tollgates are commonly conducted to review critical decisions during a project.


Time in a process to move products, equipment, materials, information or people from one place to another. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.

Use Case Diagram

The use case specification provides the details of the functionality that the system will support and describes how the actors will use the system in order to obtain a specific result of value.

User Story

A user story (typically used by Agile methodologies) is a high-level requirement containing just enough information to help the team produce a reasonable sizing for the requirement. The user story is generally one to two sentences in the everyday language of the user.

Value adding activities

Steps/tasks in a process that meet all three criteria defining value as perceived by the external customer:

  • Transforms the item/service toward completion
  • Customer cares (willing to pay for it)
  • Done right the first time

A project team may suggest improvement ideas to bring their current process closer to the ideal process comprised only of value-adding activities.

Value Stream Map

A visual map of workflow from beginning to end, which produces an outcome or product (services, materials, information, etc.) Value is defined from the customer’s perspective. It is a tool to document the current process, point to problems and focus direction.


A change in a process or business practice that may alter its expected outcome.

Visual Management

A strategy for creating and sustaining process stability through the use of visual cues. Ideally, visual management includes contingency plans triggered when a visual display indicates that current performance is different than target performance.

Voice of the Customer (VOC)

A systematic approach to gather and analyze customer requirements, expectations, level of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Methods of gathering Voice of the Customer include complaints, surveys, comments, market research, focus groups and interviews. Voice of the Customer should drive the process improvement or redesign efforts, and is a key data source in the project selection process.


Idle time in a process, when material, information, people or equipment are not ready. A non-value added activity; also known as ‘Waste’.


Also known as ‘non-value added”.  No value is added from the customer’s perspective. There are seven categories of waste: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized staff talent, transportation, inventor/storage, motion, extra processing.

Work Breakdown Structure

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) documents the subdivision of tasks and effort required to complete an objective or project. It is most often depicted as a tree structure where high-level tasks break down into lower-level tasks. Low-level tasks are typically grouped in various logical ways such as by system, subsystems, project phase, or a combination of these.