Business Process Improvement is a standardized process designed to help organizations improve efficiency and create infrastructure supporting growth. Taking the time to analyze, review, and improve every stage of any business process will help you to increase efficiencies, enabling higher productivity, more profit, or a faster development or deployment journey. This remains true across nearly any industry in which you might work, because your base processes support your ability to structure and guide individuals and teams through the process of work.
Here, your method and options will change depending on whether you’re using a traditional waterfall organization or are utilizing Agile with a framework such as Lean, Kanban, or Scrum in place.
The first step to improving business processes is to map them and understand where they are and why they are there. For example, even if you originally created strong business process documentation, it has likely changed over time and may not follow your original processes. Mapping existing business processes should involve talking with the individuals who perform the processes, mapping out individual steps and substeps so that you have a clear picture of what happens and when.
The easiest way to map business processes is using workflow software or mapping tools, which you can then use to lay out entire processes in a logical and understandable way. Mapping your business processes allows you to create a central database of documentation, which you can update, refer back to, and access from across the organization.
Processes are typically either put into place on purpose with planning designed to create an efficient process or developed over time as a natural result of performing the work. They may be documented or not, but in either case, they may or may not continue to be relevant and efficient. For example, work methods change, tooling changes, teams shrink or grow depending on the market, and people come and go. Your business process mapping can help you to analyze the flow of work and productivity to determine where your processes are and are not working.
Here, your goal should be to analyze instances where productivity halts or slows, where customers or team members become frustrated or slowed, where costs go up or down, where quality goes up or down, and where steps cause delays, require more time investment, or otherwise create a bottleneck in the process.
Here, you can use a root cause analysis process such as “The 5 Whys” to determine what is actually causing problems. Your goal should be to keep asking “Why” until you reach a root problem or cause behind all visible problems. For example, bottlenecks can be symptomatic of larger problems relating to communication, where dependencies become problematic. Slowed production may relate to something as simple as old machinery. It may also relate to individuals who have moved to new tools and software they don’t understand.
A good “Five Whys” process should look something like this:
Here, you could trace a problem that could be related to development or any other issue down to a simple budgeting problem in your process. While you could stop at any one of these questions, it wouldn’t tell you the real problem, so you wouldn’t be able to fix the problem, only the symptom.
Once you’ve identified problems inside your business processes, you can go about redesigning them. For example, if you’ve identified bottlenecks, where one team must wait too long to receive work back from another team, you can work to eliminate it. If you realize communication is the issue slowing work down at crucial stages in the process, you could integrate communication such as video conferencing to enable faster discussion and project approval.
Realizing good solutions to problems means understanding what the problems are, what and who they affect, and where they come from. For example, the problem in “The 5 Whys” likely isn’t as easily solvable as giving budget to the onboarding team. If there were budget, they’d likely have it already. Instead, you’d logically have to review other processes and move funds from places where they are adding less value to fund the tooling needed by the team.
It’s also important to conduct a risk analysis and failure analysis on any potential solutions. The larger the solution, service, and budget, the higher the risks will likely be. Ensure that they are validated and hopefully tested on a smaller scale before putting them into place. This will directly contribute to growth, because it will directly improve efficiency and productivity inside your organization.
Once you’ve instigated changes, you must take the time to communicate those changes across the organization. Business processes are only alive when they are followed and utilized. Simply documenting processes and expecting them to be followed will be met with disappointment. Instead, you need to integrate processes into tooling and workflows, so that they are performed automatically. Some individuals may be resistant to change as well, especially if they’ve worked with a specific process for a long time. Even changing how new employees are on-boarded can be met with considerable resistance.
Integrating new processes directly into tooling is the easiest way to ensure processes are followed. You also want to ensure that all documentation and information is available via a central platform or network, where any relevant party can access the information they need to follow processes and understand how and why those processes add value.
Business Processes Improvement is not something you can do once a year and hope for the best. Instead, you must continue to review, update, and accept changes as they happen. New tooling, new business directions, and new solutions will change how and why you work. Teams should have some access to be able to update their processes as they change, so that documentation and processes are kept relevant and valuable across the organization. Creating a process of continuous review and improvement, where teams own their own processes, is the easiest way to ensure they remain relevant.
Improving business processes is the easiest way to increase efficiency and productivity inside an organization. Identifying problems and bottlenecks inside your processes will help you to streamline work processes and improve quality or cost-of-production across your organization.
This will often mean creating infrastructure, networking, and investing in tooling supporting these changes and may require investing in communication tools to initiate adoption of new processes.
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