Your 5 Step Guide to Process Improvement (or How to Level the Business Playing Field)
The concept of improving business processes has been around for hundreds of years. Initially, business process improvement (BPI) was implemented by large corporations in order to foster greater efficiency to compete on a global landscape.
In the last two decades, the internet paired with modern technology advancements has leveled the business playing field in such a way that small and medium size businesses now compete globally as well. This competitive business shift has led to an increased focus on continuous business process improvement across all sizes of companies.
In today’s business landscape, no matter your size, if you are not continuously striving for business process improvement, you are falling behind the competition.
What is Business Process Improvement (BPI) and How Can I Implement It?
BPI is a business exercise that evaluates key procedures to identify areas to improve performance and then re-engineers those procedures for significant performance gains. In more recent years, BPI has been known by many names and faces: Six Sigma, lean management, Just in Time, Agile, and Business Process Re-engineering, to name a few. For SMBs that lack the resources of larger enterprises, the idea of pursuing BPI can seem overwhelming and difficult to complete. As the owner of a business, it is usually difficult to make improvements when most of your time is already consumed by meeting the demands of your established client base.
What follows is intended to be a basic guide to BPI that outlines the approach most large businesses and consultants use to remain competitive in today’s ever-changing business landscape.
Step 1 – Know Your Process
The first step is to understand your current business process. That might sound obvious, however, the surprising reality is that many business leaders are disconnected from the day-to-day operations of their own companies. It’s understandable, of course: you hire employees and delegate as you grow. And this step does not imply that business owners need to know every detail of every process. But it does mean that those who are ‘in the know’ or deal with the company’s processes every day will need to be involved in the BPI endeavor. At the very least, the process subject matter experts should be consulted, if not made the core of the BPI team.
Step 2 – Document Your Process
Knowing is only half the battle. How many times in small businesses do you have subject matter experts who are the only ones who know how a particular job or process is completed? This approach in itself can stunt the growth of a business, and in some cases collapse a business, if that individual decides to leave. Every company should at a minimum have their core business processes documented to show the workflow and individuals involved.
Once you have the core processes covered, you can level up to best-in-class documentation. This includes not only the core processes, but is also supported with enough written standard operating procedures (SOPs) that employees at all levels and at any time can ensure they are completing a job as it was intended. Additionally, the format and location of the documented process is typically standardized and automated in such a way that employees need not disrupt their workflow to verify the SOP. There are many documentation software programs available to assist with this type of access and integration.
PRO TIP: Don’t worry about best-in-class documentation when you’re just getting started with BPI. Focus on your core processes and document them. As you do, you can make note of any SOPs that come to mind, but you can always add those in later. Get through these 5 steps first so you can start to see results. By then, some of your SOPs may be different anyway.
Step 3 – Understand How Technology Fits
One of the best ways to improve any process is to have a complete understanding of how technology fits in the re-engineering process. And whether that technology is cutting-edge software or older systems you know how to get the most out of, this step is critical to achieving industry-leading process improvement. In-depth technical knowledge paired with a strong understanding of BPI will allow you to implement automation through your technology that will not only maximize efficiency, but also improve business processes and increase their accuracy and effectiveness.
Step 4 – Identify Your Bottlenecks
Once the process is documented and the technology is understood, the next step is to identify where the “bottlenecks”—those areas where activities can get bogged down or confused—exist. Bottlenecks can occur during hand-offs from one department to another or in situations that require approvals before continuing. Typically, this step requires a consultant or a team member who is well versed in one of the many business process modeling techniques available. Some examples of these techniques are Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), Unified Modeling Language (UML), Yourdon’s Data Flow Diagrams (DFDs), and Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT).
In general, identifying where a company needs to improve is a critical part of BPI and includes the following elements:
- Review the “current state” business procedures.
- Interview key stakeholders to verify “current state” business procedures and begin to expose issues.
- Diagram the “current state” business procedures.
- Review the “current state” business procedures with leadership.
- Re-engineer the “current state” business procedures to the “future state.”
- Diagram the “future state” business procedures.
- Review and agree on the “future state” business procedures with leadership.
Step 5 – Implementation and Change Management
When the “future state” business procedures are defined and agreed upon by leadership, the next step is to implement the changes. The way this step is handled can be most critical to the success of BPI since most changes fail because they are not well received by the employees of the business. Prior to beginning implementation, the process changes and the individual(s) responsible for managing the change must be publicly supported by the owners and key decision makers. Without this support, implementation of long-term change will fail, which could lead to disastrous results for the company.
Next, a well-developed change management project must exist to ensure that proper training, expectation, and accountability are met during the project and after the go-live. Depending on the significance of the change, this stage could take a month to several years. No matter the time frame, when step 5 is completed successfully, the business is on its way to being more competitive and increasing its bottom line.
Change will always be difficult. And making sure change is effective and long-lasting can seem impossible. But with more than 20 years of business technology experience and a process-driven culture, the team at Infinity is well positioned to guide your company through the business process improvements you need to grow successfully. Give us a call or send in your questions today.