How to Fuel Business Process Optimization
Consider the short parable where an old fish comes across two young fish swimming in the opposite direction. The old fish says, “Howdy boys, how’s the water?” and the young fish swim on, then eventually one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
Processes are like water in our everyday lives. They flow around us whether we notice them or not, but when you notice them - you really notice them. Consider another situation you may very well have lived through in the course of your life - the experience of sitting in an utterly drab, depressing space that is the Department of Motor Vehicles, probably with at least one fluorescent light flickering above you just enough to bring you to the brink of insanity while you wait. And wait you do, in a particular way where you feel the moments of your life tick tick ticking away with the knowledge that you’ll never get them back.
But this story has a hero. Somewhere in some DMV a man, or a woman - a person we’ll just call Our Hero - decided: NO MORE. We can do better. We can build a better machine. We can optimize this process!
So Our Hero set off on a bold adventure to rethink how they do work, from the customer experience to how staff move through the various governmental administrative processes to hand out fresh license plates and renewed driver licenses. Can we use technology - a mobile app to shift queueing from in-person pull-a-ticket scenarios to digital check-ins? Why yes we can. Can we send an email in advance to ensure citizens have the right paperwork in hand when they visit? Absolutely. Our Hero transformed the DMV experience to something way less painful and way more efficient. Our Hero optimized!
You Can Be a Process Hero Too
With a little effort and attention, you can start a quest to analyze the way you and your teams work and pursue a systematic approach to improving your workflows and reap tangible benefits, including:
- Streamlined operations (and time is $money)
- Cultural boosts
- Reduced risks and market compliance
- Well-utilized resources
- Consistency and predictability
- Improved quality
- Operational transparency
The goal of optimization is simple: to maximize output (throughput) while minimizing the cost of resources (time, materials, human capital) used to generate the result. Processes have a mystical way of starting organically and then sprawling into a sloppy mess - if they aren’t looked after. We offer a practical guide to consider for your organization.
A little focus goes a long way when it comes to process optimization. Consider starting with a manual process, perhaps a tedious one, or one that simply feels complicated, and then:
- Define the purpose and goals
- Identify bottlenecks: Where is work getting stuck? For example, are you shifting between systems, updating documents manually, or sending items back and forth via email?
- Discuss alternatives: Brainstorm with your team, review alternatives, find new systems that can cut down on manual steps, or shift responsibility from one team member to another. For example, if Carl is “always busy” (who isn’t, Carl, come on man!) and you’re always waiting on him to complete his task in the process, perhaps the best option is to get Carl out of the way by assigning responsibility to Wendy. Because you can always count on Wendy to deliver quickly.
- Implement change: Create a game plan and timeline to adjust your process steps, systems or resources. First you design the process, then you work the process.
Don’t Forget to Communicate
At SmartSuite, we like to say a decision isn’t a decision until it’s been communicated to everyone it impacts. The same goes for processes, where it’s a best practice to formally communicate the process changes to everyone involved. It can be as simple as a verbal update, a formal document or presentation, or even a demonstration of the systems used to generate an outcome.
It may seem obvious, but a universal truth in business is: The better understood a process, the easier work flows through it.
Consider Your Systems
This is where the real process fuel comes into play. Systems and technology truly exist to make the machinery of business run more efficiently. The right combination of systems is key. A general rule of “less is more” applies here, because more systems, means more isolated data or work to streamline how data flows in a process with complicated integrations.
SmartSuite can help keep system growth at bay while uniting all your processes. After all, that’s what it’s built for. You can run your HR, product development, sales and marketing, customer care - anything - on one common platform. This unites your data and keeps everyone working in the same space to improve collaboration and remove process friction while you’re on your journey to optimize the way you work.