Michael Lough is managing director of Boost & Co partner Blue Wren, a software house based in Preston. He shares his eight-step guide to help growing business improve workflow and efficiency. For a growing business, it is very easy to get caught in a cycle of ever-increasing operating costs. This is an obvious profit-killer and places the business at risk if things change unexpectedly. The best way to break this damaging cycle is to address and improve the efficiency of your processes.
In business we often over-complicate things, adding unnecessary time and cost to a business or project. Whether its resource allocation, project delivery or financial tracking, many project managers and teams over-complicate processes which are easy to implement. One obvious solution is to put the right workflow software in place and use it to help reduce inefficiency and process waste.
But many businesses jump straight to a software solution without fully understanding the inefficiencies in their processes, and how they can be improved.
This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many businesses have never written down how they do what they do. The first step is to list every process in your business. Start with the processes involved with fulfilling a sale as this is central to the success of your business.
Once you have documented this, build it out from there, looking at each business function and the processes it uses to deliver its role. The aim at this stage is to understand how your business currently operates and identify obvious areas where you can improve.
Having documented your work processes, it is very easy to be overwhelmed – don’t be. Process improvement is just the next step towards sustainable profit growth. The next step is to identify the key areas of inefficiency in your current process.
Quite often it will be around duplication of effort, poor flow of information, repeatable manual tasks and ineffective technology. Gather feedback from key staff across the business, they will have the best insight into what is working and what is not.
Make a prioritised list of areas where your process needs improvement and prioritise the improvements that will deliver greatest impact.
Challenge yourself to see whether you can simplify your processes. The fewer the steps in any process, the less likelihood of mistakes, inefficiency and waste. Work through and challenge each step in the process.
Why is it there? Is it necessary? Quite often the answer is no. As humans we love to add complexity where there is no need for it. Be brutal if you can, you can always put the steps back in if you find things are not working properly.
It is now time to rewrite your processes, taking on board the changes you have made following the previous two steps. In all probability this new process workflow will look quite different from the one you started with.
Don’t make this a formal document that the business must rigidly follow. Instead it should become a living document that is constantly reviewed, shared and tweaked as you start to implement some of the improvements you identified. Share the new process workflow with the entire business.
You are now ready to look at the existing systems you use to manage your workflow and decide whether they are still fit for purpose. If you are predominantly using Excel to keep track of your processes, then it is probably time to look at other solutions.
When choosing the right tools be sure to select software that will deliver the specific process improvements you need. Chances are, there won’t be an off the shelf system that will deliver everything your business needs.
The next step is to test your improved processes as well as any new tools you have chosen to help manage your workflow. Start small if you can, using the new process and software for a single project or business function.
Measure the impact using KPIs that are relevant to your business. These could be productivity growth, return on investment, project turn around, customer satisfaction score, etc. Based on your test, tweak the process, update your process document, and then prepare to roll it out across the business.
You are now ready to implement your new process workflow across the business. If you have engaged with your staff during the improvement exercise, then there should be no big surprises. It is, however, still important to carry out a risk assessment in advance to pre-empt and mitigate any issues that could arise when moving to the new workflow.
These include possible corruption of existing data or communication breakdown between business functions. It is also important to get your timing right. Don’t chose a time when key people are away from the business and, if you can, avoid the end of the week.
Process improvement should be constantly reviewed, tested and refined. You should always be looking at how you can further improve the efficiency and impact of your workflow. As your processes are refined make sure those changes can be supported in any software tool you have chosen.
Blue Wren develop configurable business process software, such as Flight, to improve processes, boost productivity and create positive change. To discuss how to improve your business processes, get in touch on 01772 823734.