Every company is built on business processes. They’re the repeatable tasks you have to carry out on a regular basis – anything from shipping out a product to onboarding a new employee. How well these processes operate can be the differentiator between a good and a great company. By streamlining your processes, you’re making sure that they’re operating on maximum efficiency, which improves company performance.
What’s a Business Process?
A business process is a series of repeatable steps carried out by an individual or team that accomplish a certain business goal. It’s something that every business does, whether they do it consciously or not.
What differentiates a process from a task is the fact that it’s repeatable – it’s not a one-time thing. To clear that up a bit, let’s look at some examples…
Process – When onboarding a new employee, you need to have them sign certain documents, show them around the office, introduce to other employees, etc. You go through this exact process (with minor variations) each time there’s a new hire.
Task – Can be an individual part of a process or a single one-off to-do. Think, having the new employee fill in a W2 form (part of a process) VS follow-up a potential client (one-off task with no concrete follow-up).
A process can both be formal or informal. The difference between the two is documentation. A formal process is called a procedure and is documented in some form (on paper, software, etc.). Informal, on the other hand, means all the processes that exist but have not been documented.
As you could have guessed, how well these processes perform will determine how well your business is doing. Efficient processes can help your business in several ways…
- Higher Profits and Productivity – The end-result of process improvement. This is achieved through lower defect rates, higher output per input, etc.
- Improved Employee Morale – By streamlining your processes, you’ll be getting rid of any steps or tasks that don’t contribute to the businesses bottom line. Meaning, your employees will be able to spend more time on work that actually helps your business grow (as opposed to waste time on useless tasks).
- Happier Customers – Through lower defects, faster delivery time and so on, your products and services will improve. This, of course, strengthens the image of your brand.
Streamlining Business Processes to Improve Efficiency
Company processes are rarely as efficient as they could be. Not a lot of companies practice continuous improvement – most are simply contempt with how they operate. They start off doing something one way and never actually consider that there might be other options.
Streamlining business processes, however, will ensure that you’re doing the very best you can be.
By definition, streamlining a business process means improving its efficiency by either removing any unnecessary steps, adopting other methodologies, or using new technology.
To streamline the process, you need to start with…
Step #1: Process Mapping
Unless you know what, exactly, the process consists of, you can’t really streamline it. Putting it down on paper makes analysis significantly easier, as it gives you a top-down view of the process. Depending on what you’re looking to improve, there are several different process mapping techniques you’d use. The list includes the flowchart, value stream map, SIPOC, and so on.
There are 3 ways to do process mapping…
Pen & Paper – The simplest option is to just grab a piece of paper and draw the process map. The fact that it’s a physical document, however, makes it harder to share, get feedback on, etc.
Flowchart Software – Dedicated software for creating online process diagrams. This can be extremely helpful if you don’t want to remember different symbols used for process mapping.
Workflow Management Software – A tool that allows you to create a process diagram and enforce it at the same time. You can use it to track work in real-time, as well as make modifications to established processes..
Step #2: Analysis
Unless the process being analyzed has some very obvious flaws, you might have to dig deep to find inefficiencies.
So, ask yourself…
- Are there any steps in the process that are too time-consuming? Are they taking more time that you’d consider to be reasonable?
- Does the process often result in missed deadlines or delays? What could possibly be the reason?
- Are certain processes or process steps more expensive than what would be reasonable? What could be driving the price up?
- In every process, there are key steps which determine the output. Is there any way to make such steps faster or more efficient?
To help you with the analysis, you could also use some of the business process improvement tools, such as the 5 Whys Analysis (asking “why” 5 times until you find the root cause of any problem) or the Fishbone Diagram (a graph that helps pinpoint the relations between causes and effects).
Step #3: Streamline the Process
Once you determine what the root cause is, you can focus on coming up with a solution & streamlining the process accordingly. To get this right, make sure to pick the right metrics for comparison. You’ll need something to compare benchmark your new processes with.
In most cases, one of the following 3 solutions is used to streamline processes.
- Removing Useless Steps – Are there any steps within the process that don’t contribute to the end goal or product? You can figure out a way to cut them out.
- Adopting Other Methodologies – Meaning, changing the way you do things. You could, for example, adopt
- Using New Technology – Technological developments have always been a game changer. With the right tool, you could fundamentally change the way the process works. Think, adopting CRM software rather than having an excel sheet with contact information.
Step #4: Implement
The fact that the process works in theory doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in a real business environment. For example, your solution might increase product output, but it might also 2x the defect rates. This puts you back in square one – maybe even further back if you count the time & effort wasted.
So, during the implementation phase, it’s a better idea to start small & scale up from there. Rather than implement the solution company-wide, do it site-wide and see how the new process measures up to the old one.
- Is everything going as it should be? Are there any details within the process that weren’t accounted for during planning?
- Is the solution as effective as it was meant to be? Why or why not?
- Does it come with any problems or defects? Is there a chance that there might be some long-term?
Enforcing New Processes
If everything goes as planned, you might think it’s time for celebration. Not exactly – coming up with a more efficient process is one thing, enforcing it is another. Your employees are used to the old way of doing things, and as you probably already know, changing habit is hard.
In some cases, this will be a breeze – if you’re making their lives easier for them, for example (think, removing a time-consuming step in a process). It others, your employees might need to put a lot of work into learning the new way of doing things. So, how do you ensure that once you look away, the employees won’t go back to the older process?
The key here is adopting workflow management software. Rather than having implicit processes within the company, you document & track them with the software. You can see how the process is going in real-time, whether there are any holdups if someone’s missing a deadline, etc. To learn more about workflow management software, head over to our homepage or schedule a free consultation.