Make your business process more efficient in 5 simple steps

How effective business process management can dramatically increase productivity within organizations

Author: Deanna deBaraMay 21st, 2019

When it comes to building a successful business, there are a number of factors that come into play. One of the most important? Business process management.

A business process is a series of actions or steps your organization takes to achieve a particular business goal. Business process management is the practice of continually reviewing and improving each business process within your organization.

For executive leaders who want to grow and scale up their organization, business process management is a major priority. According to “The State of Business Process Management 2018” from BPTrends, 93% of the organizations surveyed were involved in multiple process improvement projects.

Here’s how business process management works, along with the steps executives need to take to identify which processes within their organization need to be improved.

What are the characteristics of an efficient business process?

Business processes can be internal—like how to onboard new employees—or external, such as how to package and ship customer orders. But for one to be efficient, proper and thorough documentation listing each step, as well as who on the team is responsible for each part, is critical. However, 52% of businesses surveyed in the BPTrends report said they only occasionally model or document their company processes.

“A good business process is going to be well-documented so that it is a common playbook that the organization can refer back to,” says Erin Greilick, a senior consulting partner at Strata Leadership. “[It’s] developed enough that the members of the team can repeat what it is that is involved along the process of developing whatever the piece of work is that they’re focused on.”

How to streamline a business process to facilitate growth

Here are a few steps that can take your company to new levels of efficiency.

1. Identify what’s working—and what’s not

“Talk to the people that have been involved in the process,” says Tom Kuczmarski, who lectures on innovation at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “Identify from their end, What have been some of the benefits of the process and where are some of the pitfalls? What do they see as some key problems within the process?”

Getting that initial feedback from key stakeholders—people who are actually using the process day in and day out—can give executives invaluable insight into what processes in their business need to be streamlined.

2. Set your baseline and your goals

Once you’ve identified a business process that you want to improve, you need to determine where exactly you’re starting from and where you hope to end up.

“Gather data so that you know what your state is before you start trying to change anything,” says Greilick. Once you have that baseline, you can set specific goals for how you hope to improve the business process.

“Make clear what it is that you’re about to do and why it is that you’re looking at streamlining a process,” she says. “[That way,] upfront there is clarity around what the outcome is and the motivation behind the effort that you’re about to undergo.”

3. Leverage your team and build a roadmap for success

The next step is building a roadmap for getting from point A to point B. Greilick says leaders should look at how the business process has been functioning so far and then ask themselves, “How would it need to change in order for us to be quicker, more effective, more productive?”

“Form a cross-functional team of people to try to look at the process [from] different types of perspectives,” says Kuczmarski. “The key is not to have an excess of people from the same functional areas that the process is in.”

So if you’re looking to improve a financial approval process, he explains, you don’t want too many finance people on that cross-functional team. Mix in people from marketing and IT and other departments. Getting a wide variety of views on the business process can help you develop a comprehensive and innovative game plan for streamlining it—which can achieve better and more effective results.

4. Look for opportunities to automate

Automation is a cornerstone of digital transformation. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways to not only increase efficiencies in your business processes but to make each process more engaging and fulfilling for your team. According to a McKinsey report on productivity and automation, “About 60 percent of all occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent activities that could be automated.”

For example, is your client services team spending hours every week gathering contact information from potential business leads? Chatbot software can automate the process of gathering that initial lead information—and free up your team’s time to actually pitch those leads. Is your human resources director spending a good chunk of her time inputting benefits information for new team members? Invest in a human resources platform that allows employees to input their information directly—and free up your HR director to work on more high-level projects.

5. Roll out your new process and continue to gather feedback

You’ve identified a business process that could be improved, worked with your team to develop a plan to improve that process, and identified opportunities for automation. Now it’s time to pull the trigger and implement the process within your organization.

Once you’ve rolled out a new business process, it can be tempting to think “mission accomplished” and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But it’s important, Greilick says, “Once you institute that process that you let people know, ‘Hey, I need feedback.’ ”

An essential aspect of effective change management is putting people first. So part of building the most efficient business processes is fostering an environment in which your team feels empowered to deliver honest feedback. “You have to have norms and behaviors that will support a true mindset of collaboration within a company,” says Kuczmarski.

Let your team know that your new business process isn’t set in stone. Schedule regular check-ins with stakeholders to get their feedback on how the process is working (or not working) and what you and your leadership can do to continue to improve and streamline it.

Effective business process management is key to organizational health

Streamlining business processes within your organization does more than just impact your bottom line. It supports your overall organizational health and empowers your team to do their best work—which helps your organization grow from the inside out.

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