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Improving Business Processes

Streamlining Tasks to Improve Efficiency

You probably use dozens of business processes every day.

For example, you may go through the same steps each time you generate a report, resolve a
customer complaint, contact a new client, or manufacture a new product.

You've likely come across the results of inefficient processes, too. Unhappy customers, stressed
colleagues, missed deadlines, and increased costs are just some of the problems that dysfunctional
processes can create.

That's why it's so important to improve processes when they are not working well. In this article,
we'll look at how you can do this.

About Business Processes

Processes can be formal or informal. Formal processes – also known as procedures – are
documented, and have well-established steps.

For example, you might have procedures for receiving and submitting invoices, or for establishing
relationships with new clients. Formal processes are particularly important when there are safety-
related, legal or financial reasons for following particular steps.

Informal processes are more likely to be ones that you have created yourself, and you may not
have written them down. For example, you might have your own set of steps for noting meeting
actions, carrying out market research, or communicating new leads.

The Importance of Efficient Processes

These different kinds of processes have one thing in common: they're all designed to streamline
the way that you and your team work.

When everyone follows a well-tested set of steps, there are fewer errors and delays, there is less
duplicated effort, and staff and customers feel more satisfied.

Processes that don't work can lead to numerous problems. For example:

 Customers may complain about poor product quality or bad service.


 Colleagues get frustrated.
 Work may be duplicated, or not done.
 Costs increase.
 Resources are wasted.
 Bottlenecks can develop, causing you to miss deadlines.

Improving Your Team's Processes

When you encounter some of the problems mentioned above, it may be time to review and
update the relevant process. Follow these steps to do this:
Step 1: Map the Process

Once you've decided which process you want to improve, document each step using a Flowchart
Add to My Personal Learning Plan or a Swim Lane Diagram Add to My Personal Learning Plan.
These tools show the steps in the process visually. (Swim lane diagrams are slightly more complex
than flowcharts, but they're great for processes that involve several people or groups.)

It's important to explore each phase in detail, as some processes may contain sub-steps that
you're not aware of. Consult people who use the process regularly to ensure that you don't
overlook anything important.

Step 2: Analyze the Process

Use your flow chart or swim lane diagram to investigate the problems within the process. Consider
the following questions:

Where do team members or customers get frustrated?

Which of these steps creates a bottleneck Add to My Personal Learning Plan?

Where do costs go up and/or quality go down?

Which of these steps requires the most time, or causes the most delays?

First use Root Cause Analysis Add to My Personal Learning Plan, Cause and Effect Analysis Add to
My Personal Learning Plan, or The 5 Whys Add to My Personal Learning Plan to trace the problem
to its origins. After all, if you only fix the symptoms, the problems will continue.

Speak to the people who are affected by the process. What do they think is wrong with it? And
what suggestions do they have for improving it?

Step 3: Redesign the Process

You're now going to redesign the process to eliminate the problems you have identified.

It's best to work with the people who are directly involved in the process. Their ideas may reveal
new approaches, and, also, they're more likely to buy into change if they've been involved at an
early stage.

First, make sure that everyone understands what the process is meant to do. Then, explore how
you can address the problems you identified in step 2 (Brainstorming Add to My Personal Learning
Plan can help here). Note down everyone's ideas for change, regardless of the costs involved.

Then, narrow your list of possible solutions by considering how your team's ideas would translate
to a real-life context.

Start by conducting an Impact Analysis Add to My Personal Learning Plan to understand the full
effects of your team's ideas. Then, carry out a Risk Analysis Add to My Personal Learning Plan and
a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis Add to My Personal Learning Plan to spot possible risks and
points of failure within your redesigned process. Depending on your organization's focus, you may
also want to consider Customer Experience Mapping Add to My Personal Learning Plan at this
stage.

These tests will help you to understand the full consequences of each proposed idea, and allow
you to make the right decision for everyone.

Once you and your team agree on a process, create new diagrams to document each step.

Step 4: Acquire Resources

You now need to secure the resources you need to implement the new process. List everything
that you'll need to do this.

This could include guidance from senior managers or from colleagues in other departments, such
as IT or HR. Communicate with each of these groups, and make sure that they understand how
this new process will benefit the organization as a whole. You may need to prepare a business case
Add to My Personal Learning Plan to demonstrate this.

Step 5: Implement and Communicate Change

It's likely that improving your business process will involve changing existing systems, teams, or
processes. For example, you may need to acquire new software, hire a new team member, or
organize training for colleagues.

Rolling out your new process could be a project in itself, so plan and manage this carefully.
Allocate time for dealing with teething troubles, and consider running a pilot first, to check for
potential problems.

Keep in mind that change is not always easy. People can be resistant to it, especially when it
involves a process that they've been using for some time. You can use tools such as the Change
Curve Add to My Personal Learning Plan and Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Add to My Personal
Learning Plan to help overcome resistance to change.

Step 6: Review the Process

Few things work perfectly, right from the start. So, after you roll out the new process, closely
monitor how things are going in the weeks and months that follow, to ensure that the process is
performing to expectations. This monitoring will also allow you to fix problems as they occur.

Make it a priority to ask the people involved with the new process how it's working, and what – if
any – frustrations they're experiencing.

Adopt continuous improvement strategies such as Kaizen Add to My Personal Learning Plan. Small
improvements made regularly will ensure that the process stays relevant and efficient.

Key Points
A business process is a set of steps or tasks that you and your team use repeatedly to create a
product or service, reach a specific goal, or provide value to a customer or supplier. When
processes work well, they can significantly improve efficiency, productivity, and customer
satisfaction.

However, processes that don't work can cause frustration, delays, and financial loss.

To improve a business process, follow these steps.

 Map processes.
 Analyze the process.
 Redesign the process.
 Acquire resources.
 Implement and communicate change.
 Review the process.

Keep in mind that you'll need to improve most processes at some point. New goals, new
technology, and changes in the business environment can all cause established processes to
become inefficient or outdated.