There is a ton of skepticism around improving business processes. Some company managers consider it a trendy buzzword, others think that improving operations is too complicated and expensive - so it’s better to not drag the team into it.
Other than that, business owners often believe that if something works there’s no need to change it. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” - a popular saying goes.
However, fixing processes only when they break is an inefficient strategy. Even if you put out the fire, unless you find the match that stroke it, in no time, a new one will start. The same is true for business processes - if you don’t dig into the root cause of operational challenges, bottlenecks will keep coming.
Most business process improvement strategies fail - but we should keep trying
Before you take the first step on the road to building a productive and united team, one thing is worth understanding - getting to the finish line will not be easy. In fact, according to a McKinsey survey, 70% of large-scale business improvement initiatives fail.
Those who reach the objectives of business process improvement don’t have it easy - 19% of respondents reported experiencing difficulties in the process but seeing substantial improvements at the end of the day.
Before you start planning your own BPM strategy, let’s take some time to determine why so many initiatives fail. These are the reasons most executives list as the key pitfalls.
- Lack of understanding what improving business processes means.
- Resistance to change from the team and project stakeholders - CEOs have a hard time communicating the importance and value of re-shaping processes.
- No statistically significant data to help determine whether a business process improvement strategy was a success or a failure.
- Complex and time-consuming implementation strategies.
- Struggling to scale improvements and make change last.
To make sure you don’t fall into any of the traps listed above and succeed in building an effective business improvement strategy, we will break down what business process improvement is and is not, share actionable teams for changing workflows within your team, and share resources business owners and team leaders should use for learning.
What Is Business Process Improvement?
By definition, business process improvement is a series of steps that help organizations improve the accuracy and efficiency of their processes. Business leaders implement BMP to reach specific goals:
- Reduce the amount of time needed to complete and review assignments.
- Identify and eliminate wasted efforts.
- Reduce the impact of human error.
- Improve the quality of a completed project.
- Avoid task friction - being overwhelmed by too many assignments, struggling to fight distractions at the workplace.
What business process improvement is:
- A way to meet growing customer expectations and set the business apart from competitors.
- A tool for sharing skills and knowledge across the team and interconnecting different departments within the company.
- A strategy for eliminating the waste of resources - money, time, talent, material, opportunities.
What business process improvement is not:
- A strategy that’s only relevant to large-scale businesses.
In reality, BPM teams are highly beneficial for SMEs. Since these teams often have small teams and limited budgets, it’s important to make the most out of the resources at the manager’s disposal. That’s where business process improvement comes in handy, simplifying processes and reducing operating costs.
- Building new processes from scratch.
It’s common to confuse process improvement and process re-engineering. A lot of company managers mistakenly think that improving a process means building a new one. However, the goal of business process improvement is to provide teams with better tools to make existing workflows faster, more productive, and cheaper to maintain.
- A strategy that can be replaced by having a skilled team.
A lot of company managers believe that once they gather top-notch professionals, the team will “figure it out”. However, fully shifting the responsibility on the team will pressure employees and set them up for failure. Business process improvement, on the other hand, recognizes that creating a productive working environment is just as important as assembling skilled talent.
5 Key Benefits of Process Improvement
For 90% of companies, using outdated tools and processes is the main culprit holding them back from achieving peak efficiency. Process improvement helps spot slow or redundant practices and optimize or remove them.
Here are the key benefits of putting effort into business process improvement:
Increasing employee engagement and automating repetitive tasks are the core objectives of process improvement. These changes help achieve impressive results in promoting productivity within the team.
- Collaboration within the team improves efficiency by 25%.
- Automating repetitive tasks can save companies up to 520 hours per year.
- Introducing technology to workflows improves the productivity of 92% of employees.
2. Employee satisfaction
Increasing the speed and accuracy of business processes reduces tension within the team and improves employee retention. Studies show that introducing changes like shared leadership, openness to suggestions, and meetings for answering talent’s questions helps businesses come across as growth-driven and reliable.
After implementing a process improvement strategy, business owners will reduce workplace stress for the team and avoid high employee turnover.
3. Customer satisfaction
According to a survey conducted by Microsoft, most prospects choose whether the company is worth collaborating with by researching its processes and technology. For 90%, discovering that the business they are about to work with relies on outdated tools is a deal-breaker.
Thus, although business owners often think that processes are not visible to customers, outdated workflows within the organization could be a reason for not closing deals and missing out on opportunities.
Improving business processes will not only improve the speed of connecting with leads and offer new marketing opportunities but improve customers’ perception of the company.
Transforming business processes gives team leaders a competitive edge in workplace agility. Replacing outdated tools with faster and scalable technologies, removing redundant practices, and avoiding process duplication fosters flexibility.
Achieving workplace agility is one of the key factors of a company’s success. According to MIT, flexible workplaces generate 30% more revenue and have 37% faster growth rates than businesses that rely on clunky, outdated processes.
5. Reduced risk
Process improvement aims to reduce the impact of human error, predict risks, and provide team leaders with contingency plans for all types of threats. Here are a few process improvement strategies that improve corporate security:
- Documenting risks and developing control mechanisms for potential threats.
- Introducing technologies that eliminate or reduce the impact of security threats.
- Automating processes that could compromise security to reduce the impact of human error.
DMAIC: Efficient Process Improvement Strategy
Before designing a process improvement strategy, business owners need to focus on identifying areas that are holding the company back from reaching its peak efficiency.
One of the most widely used problem-solving strategies is DMAIC (short for “Define”, “Measure”, “Analyze”, “Improve”, and “Control”).
The main benefit of this methodology is that doesn’t allow business owners to miss out on important stages of business process improvement.
Let’s take a closer look at the components of DMAIC:
- Define - identify the main goals of business improvement. A recommended strategy for efficient business improvement is to set a few incremental objectives, as well as 2-3 far-fetched, ambitious goals.
- Measure - determine and capture a set of metrics that will serve as a baseline for tracking improvement. The most popular values for assessing processes are reliability, alignment, cost, cycle time, and efficiency - however, depending on the goals for process improvement, the list may vary.
- Analyze - using statistical tools to determine what doesn’t allow existing business processes to meet the goals set by a team leader. Business developers should analyze and document the disparities between perfect and existing workflows.
- Improve - apply new strategies and tools to improve the efficiency of existing processes.
- Control - measure the efficiency of applied changes and ensure that the team adheres to new processes in the future. This step is crucial as it determines whether a manager is capable of building a scalable, designed-to-last change.
Now that you are familiar with the core principles of DMAIC, it’s time to design a process improvement plan that reflects each of the methodology’s core principles. Here are the steps business owners should take to improve the efficiency of operations.
1. Map out existing processes
Before coming up with ways to improve business processes, team leaders need to have a big-picture view of all workflows within the organization. The process of structuring all processes is called mapping.
Here are a few tips that will help team leaders describe all processes in the company concisely:
- Establish a set of criteria to describe processes. It’s a good idea to outline key actors, actions, output, the impact on the customer, and risks for each workflow.
- Don’t overcomplicate process maps. Adding too many sub-processes to each workflow makes the entire framework hard to grasp and too clunky. While listing sub-processes is a good idea, be sure to limit the number to 2-3 per workflow.
- Choose the most comfortable way to map processes. There are different approaches to process mapping - visualizing data in a flowchart, a data flow diagram, a value stream, and others. Choose the one you are most experienced in that’s the easiest for the team to understand.
2. Focus on improving customer experience
According to McKinsey, customer satisfaction is one of the key factors of companies’ operational efficiency. That’s why a growing number of companies reshape business processes around customer journeys.
Here’s how you can connect improving customer satisfaction and the company’s overall operational efficiency:
Step #1. Determine which stages of customer journeys are crucial to customers in your field. In a survey of US banking service customers, for example, the ease of filling in the application, the range of products and services, and the accessibility of product-related content were the key determinants of customer satisfaction.
Step #2. Think of ways technology can help your business handle these processes efficiently. Companies can improve the efficiency of the key points of a customer journey using automation, advanced analytics, or business process automation. The results of these changes are impressive - according to McKinsey, improving customer satisfaction helps companies generate up to $1 billion in yearly revenue.
3. Create a hierarchy of processes
To ensure high-performing business processes improvement, team leaders need to catalog and prioritize all workflows within the company. Company managers should have a clear idea of the processes they want to scale, those that can stay local, and the ones they can shut down for good.
Business analytics suggest prioritizing processes by grouping them into three categories:
- Signature processes - processes that are distinct for each company and need to be globalized to ensure consistent growth. Since such workflows are typically expensive to develop and scale, it’s better to have not more than two signature processes. Product development and customer relationship managers are the typical examples of signature workflows.
- Enabling processes are those that support the execution of signature workflows. Since they are vital to the company, these should be scaled and globalized as well. Performance and talent management, as well as budget planning are the examples of enabling processes.
- “Hygiene” processes are maintenance workflows that ensure the security and legal compliance within the organization. For the sake of operational cost-cutting, team leaders typically keep these processes local and don’t spend too much time optimizing them unless there are bottlenecks that get in the way of higher-level processes.
4. Be iterative
Iteration - performing repeated assessment - has become a powerful strategy in business process improvement. Reviewing and improving implemented strategies allows companies to track growth and progress.
Here’s what “being iterative” means for process improvement:
- Appoint people responsible for reviewing processes..
- Create mechanisms for sharing feedback with the team - polls, surveys, online sessions.
- Use tools that allow the team to analyze a project’s progress in hindsight - Trello, Asana, Wrike, and others.
- Create a schedule for iteration sessions.
4 Business Process Improvement Ideas
If you don’t have a clear idea of the processes you could improve, we came up with a list with four important yet often neglected workflows that will improve your team’s productivity and reduce workplace stress.
Here are the processes you can improve in 2021 to make sure the business is at its peak efficiency.
1. Digitizing paper-based documentation
Team leaders often have a lot of paper-based documents to print, distribute, and store - agreements, tax forms, and many others. However, keeping your document library paper-based limits its accessibility, increases the need for storage space, and increases the number of security risks (there’s no way to backup a file).
That’s why document digitization is a powerful way to instantly improve the team’s productivity. Here’s how you can get started:
- Create a document inventory and group all files it contains by types.
- Establish a plan for document scanning, prioritizing confidential and relevant data over other types of paperwork.
- Choose a tool for storing scans - make sure it’s a reliable and scalable platform.
- Create an access policy for electronic records to protect the file library from third-party security attacks.
- Get rid of the documents you no longer need.
2. Omnichannel access to services
Another way to maximize the efforts of your marketing and customer support teams is by making sure that prospective customers can contact the company using whatever platform they are comfortable with.
Here are the tips for expanding your service across all popular channels:
- Optimize your product for mobile.
- Improve the speed with which the team replies to social media messages.
- Leverage the full power of email when connecting with prospects.
- Optimize your product to work with AI assistants.
3. Automate and simplify decision-making
There’s a lot of debate regarding whether or not decision-making should be automated. After all, some of the choices business owners make can make irreversible changes in the company’s development trajectory.
However, while fully outsourcing decision-making to AI and ML tools might be too much too soon, introducing technology and reliable data to meetings helps eliminate guesswork and account for risks when making choices.
Consider implementing the following strategies to simplify decision-making:
- Use digital asset management to get one-click asset to all the data that’s relevant to the discussion.
- Deploy AI and ML tools to process data and transform it into actionable insights.
- Keep decision-making processes transparent by documenting them and opening access to stakeholder meeting notes to the entire team.
4. Transforming onboarding
Last but not least, there’s room for optimization and improvement across each stage of hiring and talent management. Here are the key ways to reimagine onboarding:
- Pre-hiring: building an employer brand and educating applicants on the company’s values and corporate culture.
- Hiring: making sure that job interviews assess job candidates effectively, improving the speed of shortlisting applicants.
- Onboarding: creating clear employee guidelines, preparing the team to welcome a new hire, ensuring that a new teammate has an assigned mentor and feels engaged at the workplace from day one.
Business process improvement is a steep road for business owners. However, completing it successfully leads to higher revenue, reduced workplace stress, and the discovery of new opportunities.
On the other hand, missing out on process improvement will put a company among laggards and make it harder to meet constantly-growing customer expectations. To make sure you handle process improvement well, use tips and ideas listed above. Also, assemble the right toolset to automate and empower changes.
Assessing workflows thoroughly and iterating on changes are the key ingredients of a successful process improvement strategy. As long as you take your time and unite the team to work towards the common goals, you’ll see positive changes brought by process improvement in no time!
Start your business process improvement strategy by implementing Pics.io DAM into your workflow. We have a free 14-day trial so you could see whether Pics.io is the right fit for your business.