It's time to review your business processes

Every organization - regardless of size, number of employees, profit status - has processes and procedures that are foundational to the business operations. They are how we get things done

When was the last time you took a good look at your business processes? A lot can change in the course of one year or even less time. New roles, business units, or vendors may now be contributing to any given process. All organizations should review business processes on a regular basis. 

The primary benefit of business process review is an improvement in overall efficiency. Regularly reviewing your business processes can reveal redundancies and present opportunities for streamlining activities and speeding process cycle time. With improved efficiency, come secondary, no less significant, benefits including:

  • Cost Savings – The more efficient and faster the business process, the greater the promise of cost savings. 
  • Staff Buy-in – Efficient processes mean smoother operations. Who among us doesn’t appreciate working in such an environment? And if you ask staff to share their expertise as part of your business process review, not only can you glean valuable insight into concrete ways of streamlining those processes, but you can also raise their sense of ownership and level of engagement.   

I recently found myself involved in an unfamiliar process for a volunteer organization. I asked if there was any documentation that I could review to help me understand the process. There was none. So, on what little information I had, I created a process map, which is a visual image that clearly identifies the following:

  • Process trigger
  • Process steps
  • Decision points within the process
  • Potential changes in process steps depending on decisions made
  • Team or Business Unit responsible for each process step
  • End-of-process trigger 

A frequent benefit of using this tool is the identification of “too much” process. This is what happened in the case above. The process map revealed a number of hand-offs between several members of the committee. This type of back-and-forth is a perfect example of inefficiency, which can, in turn, elevate the risk that one of those steps will fall through the cracks because so many people are involved in the process. By consolidating tasks and moving others to another team, we reduced the hand-offs, yielding a more efficient process. Everyone was in agreement that this was the best approach. 

If you already have processes in place, consider taking the time to review the processes on a regular basis and using a process map to help the team visualize the work cycle for each process.

If you have not yet documented your business processes, start with one process map, learn from the activity, and move on to your next process. Here’s one possible approach to get you started:

  1. Select one process from your business procedures.
  2. Gather everyone who is involved in that particular process in a room and work together to draw a visual representation of the process as it exists today, including the following: 
    • Tasks performed
    • Decision points
    • Information required for those decisions
    • Steps that result depending on the decision made at each decision point
  3. Distribute the process flow representation to all meeting participants for review and for suggestions on ways to improve the process.
  4. Regroup, discuss all suggested improvements, and incorporate agreed-upon changes to the process flow. 
  5. Prepare to pilot test the new process. As a group, decide on measures or metrics that would be meaningful in ascertaining whether the revised process would be beneficial to the organization. 
  6. Make sure that everyone on the team is aware of the pilot, then launch the test of the new process flow. 
  7. Regroup, discuss the team’s experience with the new process flow, and review the associated metrics or measures. If everything worked well, implement the new process. If not, review it again,  holding additional discussions about further modifications and testing that may be required. 
  8. Schedule another session for 6 months subsequent to review the process again. 
  9. Congratulate the team for their efforts and move on to the next process. 

Yes, this will take some time. But the potential benefits to the organization are real and significant. In addition to the previously mentioned cost savings, business process review and documentation supports training and succession planning. Visual process maps are particularly helpful to new employees or team members who are taking on a new role. When it comes to understanding the activities involved in business processes, pictures win hands down.

And the previously mentioned morale benefits cannot be overstated. You may have facilitated the discussion and provided the leadership, but the team provided the expertise on the process. It’s now their process and they will be doing their very best to make it successful because their names are on it! 

Nice job!