Technology, labor, distribution and consumer demographics have all massively changed just in the last few years. As such, business processes need to be constantly evolving to adapt and bring satisfaction to the customer as efficiently as possible. Organizations are continually looking for leadership that can control the mechanics of a redesign project as well as align them with an overall business strategy.
It can seem like a tall order to disrupt the status quo at your company, but with the implementation of smart business process improvement strategies, you’ll be able to make these changes as fluidly as possible. Let’s look at business process improvement (BPI), define it, explore strategies and then note the business and project management tools that can help implement and analyze progress in your company.
What Is Business Process?
Before we can improve business process, we must first understand it. Business process is simply a series of tasks that you and your team perform repeatedly to create a product or service for your stakeholder, sponsor or customer. Business process can be modeled as a flowchart, which details the tasks necessary to serve that business goal.
A business process starts with an objective and ends with the achievement of that goal, which provides value for the customer. A business process can often be broken down into smaller processes, allowing for divisions of labor.
In general, business process is broken down into three types.
- Operational: This includes the core business and creates a value stream, such as orders from customers, opening accounts, manufacturing, etc.
- Management: This includes such processes as corporate governance, budget and employee oversight.
- Supporting: This includes those processes that support other processes such as accounting, recruitment, technical support, etc.
Business process as a concept has been around for a long time. As early as 1776, economist Adam Smith described it in a famous example of a pin factory, which explained the productive power of business process and labor division.
In the early 20th century, American engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor offered methods to improve business processes in industry. He focused on standardization of processes, systemic training and clearly defined roles for management and employees in his Principles of Scientific Management.
Peter Drucker, the management expert, focused on simplifying and decentralizing processes. This lead to outsourcing. He is also known for founding the idea of “knowledge worker,” which is a term to differentiate those from manual workers and applied knowledge management to process.
As the concept grew and was further defined, we can now list six characteristics of a business process:
- It has definite boundaries, inputs and outputs
- It has an ordered list of activities in sequence
- It asks: “Who is the customer?”
- It must add value for the customer
- It is embedded in an organizational process
- It usually spans several functions
Lastly, when working on a business process it helps to have an owner, someone who is responsible for overseeing and improving this process.
How to Improve Business Process
By streamlining your business process you’ll have less errors and delays, and customer satisfaction will improve. Sounds great right? Well, here are some steps you can take to cut waste, boost efficiency and improve your business process.
What Needs to Change?
Analyze your business process at a high level and identify what needs changing. You can uncover areas ripe for improvement by conducting a process audit to discover where issues and risks lurk.
Analyze Your Pain Points
After you’ve figured out which parts of your process need improvement, it’s time to analyze them fully to understand what’s happening and how to realistically make improvements. Ask yourself the tough questions, for example:
- What steps are creating roadblocks?
- What aspects are most time consuming?
- Is there an undue increase in cost and resources?
- Is quality impacted?
You can find your answers by mapping out everything with a flowchart or a swim lane diagram. These tools visualize all steps in your business process. You want to dive deep into each phase of the process to make sure you’re not leaving out any steps, regardless of how minor they might appear.
This will help to discover the source of the problems occurring in your process. To further your understanding of where the process is breaking down, you’ll want to talk to those people who are directly involved in it. Get their perspective on what’s wrong and what they think can be done to improve the process.
Once you’ve identified and analyzed the issues, you’re going to need to get support from senior management to okay your plans for improvement. These improvements can take time and use resources, so without commitment from senior management you won’t have the power to proceed.
Design the Improvement Process
Now you’re going to redesign the inadequate part of your process and apply the improvements you deem necessary to add efficiency. The best way to do this is by working with those people involved in the part you’re focusing on. Include what you learned when mapping the process but continue getting input from them as part of the redesign.
Be clear about what you want to change, then work on brainstorming or other group activities to collect ideas. At this point don’t stifle any suggestions, regardless of cost or resources involved. You want to explore first.
After the exploratory step, you narrow the solutions by considering the ideas within a realistic context. Apply impact and risk analysis. Work to uncover risks and potential failure points to further help you understand the full consequences of the proposal you’re building. Once you and the group have come to a realistic approach that has been agreed upon, then you’ll want to create a new diagram to document the steps involved.
What Do You Need to Get It Done?
Now that you have a plan, you need to determine what resources are needed to implement it. List everything required. Go through the proper channels to approve of these resources and communicate clearly why they are necessary to refine and improve the process. A business case might be a good way to justify your request.
Make the Change
Implement your redesign. This might mean changing existing systems, teams and processes. Sounds like a project in and of itself? That’s because it is, and you should organize it as one. Plan, allocated time and resources, consider risk and assemble a team to get the work done.
Review, Review, Review
Just as you reviewed the existing processes to discover where improvements could be made, you’ll want to review your improvements. Monitor their progress and make sure they’re meeting the milestones you’ve set up. Be ready to adjust your plan accordingly as issues arise.
Stay in communication with your team throughout. Get input from them on how the new process is working. Ask if they’re finding it frustrating on any level. Take this information and tweak your plan to make sure that the process is in fact making improvements and not meaningless change.
Tools to Help with Business Process Improvement
There can be a lot of preparation, administration and management involved when implementing BPI. So, here are some tools to help you along the way.
Kanban is a visual tool to help you see your current process. It’s very flexible and allows you to visualize your work and divide your Kanban board as you see fit. You can break the Kanban board down as far as you want.
This visibility creates clarity, so you can evolve your process as needed to add efficiencies. It helps everyone on the team see the process at a glance, which allows for a more collaborative effort at improving those processes.
By visualizing the process, you can quickly see where there are bottlenecks in your process and resolve them. Kanban software is collaborative and improves both process and productivity.
Mind mapping was developed in the 1960s and is a graphic technique that helps improve learning and offers clear thinking to enhance performance. Therefore, it’s a great way to start collecting information that is relevant to your process.
You can connect important pieces of information, manage interconnections, link to documents and add summaries for each piece of data. You can use this process to create a work breakdown structure.
It also helps to facilitate brainstorming as mind mapping is a natural organizational structure. It radiates out from the center, with lines, symbols, colors and images, which displays information in a way that engages the participants.
Using a mind map will also help capture and organize whatever findings you make about the new process. It makes summarizing the information clear and organizes the work in a logical fashion. Then you can preview your findings with stakeholders or the team in a way that is easy to grasp.
Project management software has features that can help with business process improvement, such as online Gantt charts, workload management software, real-time dashboards and more.
As you work to redesign you process, you’ll want to have a timeline on which to place tasks and deadlines, to make sure you’re scheduling the project as efficiently as you can. That’s where an online Gantt chart comes in. All you need to do is take your task list and import it into ProjectManager.com and the timeline is populated with those tasks, which can be linked and progress can be tracked.
Adjust your resource allocation as necessary to make sure everyone has the right amount of work to move the project forward during your BPI execution. ProjectManager.com gives you the ability to see how those resources are allocated. You can run reports off the software and see how your workload is distributed across your team, discover where those balances are not equally divided, and do something about it.
Because ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software it captures the progress of your work in real time. The real-time dashboard, therefore, gives you one screen in which you can see all the data you collect on the progress, cost, workload, etc., related to the process. From this overview, the issues that are preventing you from improving productivity often come quickly into focus.
Business process improvement is key to keeping your project productive and aligned with the overall organizational strategy of your business. Fortunately, ProjectManager.com has the tools you’ll need to plan, implement, monitor and share those improvements. Try it yourself with this free 30-day trial.