W. Edwards Deming once said that “if you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.” More importantly however, if you don’t have an understanding of your end-to-end processes, you do not know how you’re doing.
At the early stages of your business, you were likely involved in most, if not all facets of operations. This meant you not only knew exactly what was being done, you could account for its effectiveness. However, as your business grew, managing your processes has got more challenging. The people, processes, and technology used in your day-to-day operations have evolved, meaning that your processes now typically resemble an onion, with processes layered on top of processes.
If you are looking to build capacity and deliver value to your customers, your processes will need to be re-visited. Here are four tips you can use to help improve your business processes now, and into the future:
- Define Your Current Processes. To understand where you want to be, you have to understand where you are today. By obtaining a step-by-step description of each process, including all the people, documentation and systems involved, you can get a better idea on how to improve the processes. This activity is best tackled by involving everyone using with the process. It can be a great way to team-build and set a future vision for the company.
- Determine Customer Value. Now that you understand how your processes are currently working, you can brainstorm ways to make them better. A key question to ask at this stage is whether each activity is value-adding? Value-adding activities are the activities that your customer wouldn’t mind paying for as they are either part of product/service delivery or are considered to be necessary ‘overhead.’ If you were a customer, would you want to pay for it?
- Measure the Effectiveness of the Process. Ask yourself how you can measure things such as service levels, productivity or throughput. Match these metrics to your processes and ensure they are measured during regular intervals. Set targets for each metric and inform your staff on what is expected in terms of performance. Re-visit these metrics and increase the targets as your business grows and operations change to encourage continuous improvement.
- Strive to Continuously Improve. Business process improvement is not meant to be an ‘overnight’ fix that occurs in singularity. It requires the continual and aligned effort of your entire team. Make improvement activities fun and reward your staff for their efforts. Collect suggestions, identify change champions and celebrate your successes. This will help build a culture of continuous improvement.
As you grow, keep in mind that that Business Process Improvement is all about the journey, not the destination. Your processes are the highways to delivering value to your customers; don’t get stuck in the slow lane!