By: Chris Dickinson, Senior Principal
There is a saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Not surprisingly, this same mode of thinking can be easily applied in the business world when it comes to processes. Especially as businesses grow and evolve, they often become more complex—more people, more systems, more data. All of this “more,” can weaken the business by slowing down decisions, increasing handoffs, and reducing the time spent on process improvements, or even process evaluation at all.
To continue a company’s competitive edge and its upward trajectory—more margin, more flexibility, more customers—it’s vital to evaluate and improve processes regularly. Here, I outline three critical steps to improve your business by improving your processes.
1. Be clear and upfront about your future state business model and metrics. It’s one thing to do annual planning but ensuring that plan evolves and is communicated properly is key. Communicate with critical stakeholders what the future state will look like by first identifying the processes to be improved and what the benefits will be—like reduced costs, improved customer experience, or increased productivity. Once that is determined, identify the business value and outcome expected. Ask, “how much is gained or improved from the current state to future state and what are the milestones along the way to ensure the process improvement is successful?” Finally, communicate a future state that marries all these elements, so it’s clear that the process improvement:
• Aligns to the overall organization’s goals;
• Resolves the associated “pain” and is tracked via appropriate metrics; and
• Contains input from people who execute the process.
2. Redesign before automation. As you design your future state processes, it’s essential first to identify steps in the process that might be better enabled through technology. It can be tempting to look at the next shiny object as a means to eradicate your number one process challenge—especially when a lot of the world is. By 2025, the process automation market is expected to reach more than $3 billion, according to a study by Grand View Research. While incorporating emerging technologies is essential to building business flexibility, it’s also critical to first streamline your process before applying automation technologies. Predictive models, robotic process automation, and machine learning are becoming the building blocks for businesses to solve everyday business challenges—but it’s important to be sure they’re applied to the right challenges after they’re redesigned because “paving the cowpath” is not the solution.
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3. Revisit skills and competencies once the future state is achieved. Whether it’s a small process tweak or a complete redesign, it’s important to regularly revisit the skills and competencies of the team executing the process to ensure they can adequately support the business objectives. Are there new skills (process automation, configuration, team leadership, and analytics to name a few) that are required? Does the team have the right mix of resources to achieve the outcomes? Just as there were milestones to meet throughout the process change, there should be continuous improvement in the people responsible for executing the process. Don’t assume that people will just “pick up the skills” needed to achieve the business objectives.
The success of process improvements largely depends on keeping these critical factors in mind, while also ensuring the participation and openness of all stakeholders, documentation of processes that support business goals, and a real understanding of the role technology will play. When business leaders exercise discipline and focus on improving the processes in a holistic way, they are well on their way to generating more value for the business.
Are your processes business assets or business hindrances? Contact us to reimagine business process excellence.