Business Process Optimisation: How to Maximize Workflow Efficiency Like a Pro

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Every business has set processes, whether they know it or not. 

Signavio found that 62% of businesses have up to 25% of their processes modelled formally, while only 2% have modelled them all. 

It’s a common saying that you can’t improve what you’re not measuring, and the same is true of business processes: you can’t optimise a business process you haven’t documented.

The great thing about business process optimisation is that it can be used anywhere, at any scale. 

David Allen once said that a project is any outcome that requires more than one step to achieve, and we can think of a “process” the same way. 

If companies want to change how they hire, BPO enables them to coordinate people over multiple interview stages. 

If they want to formalise the way their marketing team creates cornerstone content, BPO ensures the same process is always followed, and those new hires don’t make rookie mistakes.

Unless companies document, regularly review and optimise processes, they’re missing out.

Inefficient or outdated processes directly affect the company’s bottom line. If they want to increase the company’s average order value, there are two ways they could do that.

They could try to get more money from customers by upselling, raising prices, or lowering the cost of producing and shipping products. 

With BPO, they could streamline everything that needs to happen to deliver products to customers. They’d increase profit margins, and happy customers might even get their products earlier than expected.

No wonder the business process management industry grew to $198b in 2018.

Image sourced from monday.com

What is business process optimisation?

Business process optimisation is a subset of business process management. Business process management is an umbrella term for practices like creating business processes, documenting them, and using, monitoring, and optimising them.

If you’ve any experience with project management theory, think of business process optimisation as one “process” within the larger business process management practice.

It can sometimes sound abstract, but it’s about solving concrete problems. If you find that projects are being pushed back, deadlines are being missed, and mistakes are being made, business process optimisation is for you.

Even if all seems to be going well at the company, there’s always room for improvement. Think about the critical processes at the company and the activities that generate revenue, and ask:

  • Are there essential tasks that take a long time to complete?
  • E.g., the average time between a customer ordering an item and that item being shipped could be shorter. The process for onboarding new hires could be quicker and easier.
  • Are there any complex processes where it’s easy to make mistakes?
    • E.g., different best practices for posting to various social media sites must be followed whenever publishing content.
  • Are there bottlenecks and limiting steps?
    • E.g., the marketing team can’t amend the Australian company’s au domains without bothering the busy senior developer. They can only run so many A/B tests at one time.
  • Are there any resources being wasted?
    • E.g., the talented sales team spends too much time doing admin when they could be talking to customers.

    Three benefits of optimising business processes

    There are many benefits to optimising business processes, including more accurate information, reduced errors, and more transparent, efficient chains of responsibility. Let’s look at three benefits in detail.

    1. More accurate information

    If a company has a sales office and a warehouse, sales must have an accurate picture of the warehouse inventory to sell effectively.

    Employing stock software that can automatically update everyone might be an improvement. But without a detailed look at the business processes involved, companies might miss out on opportunities for further improvement.

    2. Less room for error

    Business process optimisation also reduces the chances of mistakes occurring by giving everyone a clear process to follow. 

    Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto is about only this. 

    With an average ICU patient requiring 178 actions or procedures per day, even highly-trained doctors could improve their work by documenting processes and using them as checklists.

    In hospitals, those checklists can save lives. In any business, no matter what they’re selling, well-documented and optimised processes are the keys to quality assurance. 

    Faulty products are caught before being shipped to customers, and software bugs are logically prioritised and dealt with.

    3. Discover your real processes

    Even if it feels like you can’t do much optimisation on a process, just documenting that process could speed it up. Jeff Bezos wrote in a shareholder letter, “You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it — not creating it.”

    The same can be true of processes. Once managers have mapped out a strategy, they have a clear picture of who is responsible for what parts of the task. 

    This process of “discovery” might help them clarify responsibilities. This kind of uncertainty can clog up processes, so making them clear can make them more efficient.

    Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

    How to implement business process optimisation

    There’s no one way to systemise your business for process optimisation. Models like DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control), PDSA, Process Mining, and more serve slightly different purposes. 

    But, under different names, most models more or less follow six steps: identifying problems, mapping the process, gathering information, optimising the process, implementing the new process, and monitoring the new process.

    Identify

    First, pick a process to optimise. Valuable targets could be anything that could directly raise profits or lower expenses or anything that’s underperforming.

    Document this process if it hasn’t been already. Recording each step of the process can be done anywhere as long as the document is clearly written and easy to follow. 

    The document should include every process step and who’s responsible for it. It’s a good idea to document all important processes, but we must follow the steps below to optimise a process.

    Map

    Like a flow chart, a visual map is a great way to make processes easily legible to everyone and identify bottlenecks. 

    Flow charts enable users to model conditional “if-this-then-that” logic in the process, e.g., “Has the customer already spoken to the sales team? If yes, skip to step four. If no, go to step three.”

    Setting up a small online conference, like a sales webinar, may sound simple, but if someone visualised all the necessary steps and checks to do it well, everyone would see there are more little details than they thought. 

    These would include checking the equipment and software, making sure everyone has notes prepared, recording which sign-ups showed up, drafting and approving the email sent to guests afterwards, delegating salespeople to follow up with guests, etc.

    This can be done on paper, a whiteboard, or with tools like LucidCharts. But one benefit of BPM and continuous integration (CI) is that they create flow charts that actually carry out the process they’re specifying here.

    Free to use image sourced from Unsplash

    Analyse

    Once you’ve mapped out the process, it’s time to gather extra information on that process: 

    • What goes wrong? 
    • What takes too much time? 
    • What could be automated?

    Since many business process optimisations begin with a disappointing KPI, this stage is often about gathering qualitative information in one-on-one meetings. 

    Having someone around to ask questions about why tasks are carried out a certain way can spark new insights from the people on the ground. Integrate these queries into the map of the old process and use them to inform the new.

    Redesign

    When managers redesign business processes, they change how employees work. To get them on board and make the changes stick, they will have to get buy-in from everyone involved. 

    Terms like “stakeholder mapping” and “stakeholder management” basically mean systemically considering who is affected by decisions and how they should be kept in the loop. When they’re proposing a redesign, the stakeholder meeting could just be a quick audio conference with everyone whose work will be affected.

    Managers need to sell them on how the changes will improve their work as they might demand a lot of effort upfront before anyone starts feeling the benefits. At this point, make sure everyone is aware of the KPIs with which you’ll be tracking the success of this new process.

    Action

    With the help of business process management books, you can ensure that a new process is implemented carefully. It’s important to gather data about how the new process works before switching everyone to it.

    For example, if the company is considering virtual desktop software, they’re thinking about moving everyone’s work computers onto one server that is accessed remotely. 

    That’s a huge and complicated change. The chances of something going wrong multiply with every employee, risking catastrophic data loss.

    As much as possible, big changes should be implemented in a kind of “beta test.” The company might find that the virtual desktop solution slows down the work of the company’s graphic designer, who has to work with large files daily. 

    Small tests allow teams to iron out these problems early and ensure a smoother transition that will increase employee buy-in.

    Monitor

    The person optimising the process should take qualitative and quantitative feedback on new processes. When managers optimise the company’s customer service, call tracking gives them a great bird’s-eye view of CSAT scores and conversion rates. 

    But you’ll get valuable feedback by talking to the customer service staff through telephone systems. They can raise any issues that might not show up on the data.

    This careful monitoring will enable people to make even more optimisations to processes as time progresses.

    Leverage Workato to supercharge your business processes

    Business process optimisation isn’t so complicated from this high-level overview. But once you’re immersed in the tiny details of your company, there are lots of moving parts to keep track of. 

    Workato is a low-code way to build automated workflows across the software you’re already working with.

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