Business processes are created to make our work more efficient. When people follow the same set of established steps, they minimize the amount of energy required to produce the same output. At the same time, as customers get the product or service they want more quickly at the same quality they expect, they are generally happier with the results.
There are times, however, when these business processes run into problems which lead to dissatisfied customers, higher costs, misused resources, and system gridlocks. To address and eventually avoid these issues, here are the steps you can take to improve your business processes.
Step #1: Choose which process to improve
The first step is to identify the business processes to be streamlined. Sometimes, the decision is straightforward, like when there’s a bottleneck in operations or an evident dip in performance. Otherwise, a company’s leaders may decide by using a set of standards-based on strategic and practical concerns.
Either way, management should choose the processes that have the most significant impact on customer needs or the company’s competitive edge.
Step #2: Document the process
After identifying what needs to be improved, you need to document all of the steps involved in each through process flow diagrams (i.e. flowcharts). The type of diagram used may vary, however, depending on the process.
For instance, swim lane diagrams are ideal for visually differentiating processes that involve several groups of people or phases. Process maps, on the other hand, are useful for showing the chronology of steps in a process but do not show any flow of information.
Make sure you thoroughly examine every step in the procedure; there may be processes that have further sub-steps, which you might not initially notice. To avoid overlooking any detail, check with staff members who perform the process.
Step #3: Identify the problems
Once you’ve mapped the process on a flowchart or some other visual representation, you can investigate where the problems may have been taking place. There are a number of methods you can use for identifying issues, which may include:
- Root cause analysis
This technique is used for identifying the origin of an issue. It has five steps: define the problem; gather proof that the problem exists; identify possible underlying factors; find the cause, and recommend and carry out changes.
- The 5 Whys technique
Developed by inventor Sakaichi Toyoda, the 5 Whys is a technique where you ask why a problem occurred for at least five times until you find out its cause.
- Ishikawa diagrams
Devised by professor Kaoru Ishikawa, this diagram-based method visually organizes and breaks down a problem’s possible causes (like a mind map).
To get further information, consult the staff who regularly use the process and those who are most affected by the issue/s. Ask their insight on how the procedure can be improved.
Step #4: Restructure the process
Now that you’ve identified what’s causing the issues, it’s time you eliminate them by restructuring the process. You can start by gathering your managers and affected staff, and then brainstorming for ideas. See to it that you document everyone’s ideas since they’re all potential solutions.
To zero in on which option to implement, you will have to conduct a number of business planning tests such as:
- Risk analysis
As its name suggests, risk analysis is a technique for identifying and evaluating factors that may endanger the outcome of a project. What makes risk analysis especially helpful is it helps in recognizing measures to minimize the likelihood of these factors from occurring.
- Change impact analysis
This technique aims to help analyze the impact of a planned change and find unforeseen negative effects. If utilized, change impact analysis will let you identify problems and develop plans on how to deal with them.
- Failure mode and effects analysis
FMEA is a step-by-step assessment for recognizing all possible failures in a design, process, product, or service and examine their impact.
Conducting these tests will allow you to comprehensively explore each idea you’ve brainstormed, and make an informed decision on which process change is best to implement.
Step #5: Carry out the improvements
After deciding which ideas to implement, you now have to put them into action. This, however, can pose a bit of challenge, depending on the scale of the change. To begin with, you will have to shoulder some expenses. For instance, you may have to spend on new software and train the end-users on how to use it.
The actual implementation may actually end up becoming an entirely separate project, especially if the changes are somewhat complex. Because of this, make sure you organize the project thoroughly. Expect some technical difficulty and resistance during the early stages of implementation, however. People aren’t normally open to change because it means giving up something they’re used to.
To minimize resistance, communicate the upcoming changes to the affected staff clearly. It’s not just about telling them about the improvements–you also need to sell the idea to them–particularly how it’s going to make their jobs easier and/or better. As mentioned earlier, it’s necessary to involve the affected staff during the brainstorming phase; their participation will help ease the transition.
You can sweeten the deal by setting milestones and giving incentives to employees who hit their post-implementation targets.
Step #6: Closely monitor performance
It’s necessary to closely keep track of performance, especially during the first few weeks and months. The early stages are crucial because mistakes are more likely to occur as people get used to the new way of doing things. By evaluating the new process continuously, you can address any issues as they happen and make adjustments.
If you play your cards right, there will be improvements. Don’t expect large gains at first, though. What’s important is that you regularly assess your procedures so that you can adjust, make the necessary tweaks, and ensure that these processes remain efficient.
You shouldn’t limit monitoring efforts to the numbers, however; see to it that you ask the affected employees what they think about the improvements. Are they having any difficulties with it? Are the changes actually making their jobs easier?