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Hands up who wants to be a business process troubleshooter?  No, me neither.  What about finding out how to tap into a secret goldmine of profit, without needing to invest lots of effort?  It’s the same thing!

Apply these three steps outlined at the end of this blog and within 30 minutes you’ll be well on your way to drawing where X marks the spot, and preparing the ground…

But stop reading now if all your business processes are 100% perfecto

The good news (which is also kind of the bad news, but overall the news is good) is that continual evolution of your circumstances means there is ALWAYS room for improvement in your business processes.  The chances are that you have at least one that is:

  • Restricting your ability to grow
  • Upsetting your employees and/or customers
  • Costing you money in inefficiency

Remember: you can’t build your growth on sand

Here are two examples of what happens when an apparently well-drilled business process has to contend with the added scale and extra pairs of hands that come with successful growth:

1. It comes as an unwelcome surprise when the inherent inefficiencies of a process are no longer invisible, but suddenly magnified.

EXAMPLE: Where previously just one Jenkins Brothers employee used to sit idle for a 45 minutes per day and no-one took much notice because he’d make tea for everyone and do a spot of filing, a newly hired team of 10 sits idle for a total of 7.5 hours (1 day) per day.  Logic dictates that only 9 employees are required if one person’s entire day is spent idle, but then logic doesn’t work at Jenkins Brothers where the stop-start nature of business demand means is the reality.

2. You realise that the knowledge base that developed and drove a process can’t stretch itself to the scale you want to achieve. 

EXAMPLE: Tony is “Mr. Getting All the Contracts Done Before Last Post”; an unflappable office wizard with 37 years’ experience diligently fulfilling the same tasks, knowing precisely what it takes to crank out his daily deliverable.  But Tony’s process has been shaped around his idiosyncrasies – they don’t make sense to the new army of Tonys employed to replicate his performance; in fact they don’t make sense to anyone.  The Carlisle office will continue to benefit from his 100mph, ‘don’t know how he does it’ brilliance until his inevitable cardiac arrest or retirement, whichever happens first.  Regardless, newly opened Swindon, Sheffield and Swansea can’t carry on trying to copy him.

 The five signs of a business process that needs urgent attention

Alarm bells should be ringing if you’ve taken a peek at a business process and found the following:

  • The outcomes of the business process are not as they should be
  • You’re wondering how the heck competitors manage to run their same/similar process without it seeming to create havoc
  • People say (possibly including you): “We’ve always done it this way!”
  • The manager in charge of the process has stopping seeing the big picture and has lost all sense of perspective
  • The users who drive the process don’t have a forum for speaking out about their ideas for improvement

So it’s time to pull the pick-axe out of the bag and start following these three steps to help you dig for the gold of business process optimisation.

STEP 1: Put a value on the impacts and risks

Is the sky falling in?  Are revenues in sharp decline?  How do you know this business process needs improving, and what is the business cost of leaving it to fester?  Any steps you take in improving your business process are going to take time and – probably – money.  Pretty soon you’ll be building a business case for improvement, so start by taking soundings and making judgements on ballpark figures now.

STEP 2: Map the process

Find your inner Banksy.  A quick comic strip or even just a boxes-and-lines diagram on the back of a napkin is all you need to get to grips with how a process works and where shortcuts might exist.  The onus is on simplifying everything without leaving out any important parts.  Your map needs to include inputs, outputs, people and the systems, data stores and documents they create and use.

Make sure you’ve actually experienced the process for yourself, and leave your preconceptions at the door when you do.  Find any existing, relevant documentation to support your findings.  When it comes to making your improvements to the process, you’ll be able to return to you original map and make adjustments accordingly.

STEP 3: Speak to grassroots users

Actually, scratch that… Listen to users!  We’re talking about they people who actually engage with the process – not (just) the managers in charge of it.  So actual customers, if they are involved.  Invariably you’ll need actual employees; again the low pay grade do-ers as well as the supervisors and line managers.  You might be their boss but you don’t know everything.

Don’t automatically expect that the root cause of your problem is poorly applied guidelines or lazy staff.  Question and understand.  This will ultimately help you analyse the process in more detail, and garner some immediate ideas on how to improve it.  Try to get to the heart of what their pain is, rather than just trying to identify the perceived delays and inefficiencies that are costing you money.  Have faith that users ultimately want the best for your process, and that the key lies in making their experience painless and positive.

You’ve found the gold – now you’ve got to get it home!

Undertaking these simple actions will surface a number of deficiencies in a given business process.  It doesn’t put the money in the bank however; the next steps involve acting upon your troubleshooting prowess.  Not only that, but doing so in a way that maximises your profit rather than consuming disproportionate time and resources on a drawn-out resolution.

Ultimately, you’re going to capitalise on the transformative power of software.  But for now, empty the sand from your boots and prepare for the next and most exciting part of the journey.

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