How to Improve Business Processes – and therefore your bottom line
By Marieta Bencheva, Consulthon
Processes are about more than simply defining what to do, how and in what order. They’re a fundamental part of your company’s culture, expressing who you are, your values, and why you do what you do. By sticking to clear processes, you maintain consistent quality, service and brand experience.
That being said, processes also need to grow and evolve over time in response to internal and external pressures. Processes that work for a small startup with a single product won’t work for a medium-sized business with hundreds of employees and a full catalogue of products or a large enterprise with multiple offices around the world.
Processes that do not work can lead to numerous problems, such as:
If you are a manager or business owner, you may have come across some of these negative outcomes but not know the root cause. Correctly identifying the problem is a common challenge but it is also the first and most important step towards finding a resolution and improving processes.
So, how do you accurately identify your problems, their root causes and find effective solutions/process improvements?
Broadly speaking, there are two main methods for identifying solutions:
Let’s take a look at each in turn…
Problem-solving sessions are ideal for when you already know what the problem is but are unsure how to solve it.
The first step in a problem-solving session is to create a commonly understood/agreed description of the problem:
You may end up with a specific description, such as “We have lost 20% of our clients in the past year”, or a vaguer one, such as “Our profitability is decreasing”. It doesn’t matter too much whether your description is specific or vague, as long as everyone is agreed and there are no assumptions about causes or solutions at this point.
Once you have a clear description of the problem, it’s time to measure the extent of the problem. To do this, you will need a comprehensive list of value elements. This is a good time to involve the wider team, including a representative sample of people who experience the issue.
One way to identify the reasons that the problem is occurring is to use a fishbone diagram to identify the possible causes. For each branch (i.e. each possible cause) list every element that is involved in that branch.
The reasons for the problem can generally be grouped as 8Ps or 8Ms:
Product or Service;
Productivity & Quality
Material (Includes Raw Material, Consumables and Information.);
Manpower (physical work) / Mind Power (brain work):
Measurement (data from reports, checks and controls);
Milieu / Mother Nature (Environment).
Management / Money Power;
Once you have clearly articulated the problem and discovered the extent of the impact it is having, the next thing to do is to identify some solutions and immediate fixes.
The outcome of this workshop will be a range of potential solutions which you can test and implement. It’s always a good idea to prioritise the solutions based on their likely impact and the amount of time, effort and/or money they require.
If you are less certain about what the problem actually is, or want to be more comprehensive in your solution-gathering, or are simply looking to improve processes in general, a customer journey map or value stream map is likely to be very useful.
The idea of a value stream map is to visually capture all of your current processes down to the last detail. From there, you can work through each process to ensure it is adding value and you are delivering on customer expectations. Anything that doesn’t add value to the business or customer is either removed or changed.
The first step is to create a comprehensive list of all your value elements ‒ anything that affects your costs or benefits your clients. If it helps, think of these elements as client touchpoints ‒ times at which customers interact in some way with your business.
The next step is to gather data around both the monetary and time value of each element; how much are they worth and how much do they cost? How long do they take? How much does this time cost you? As you go through each element, try to identify those that:
From this point, it should be fairly straightforward to identify any processes that aren’t adding or delivering value and begin investigating why they don’t deliver value.
Perhaps sales have become used to promising a two-week delivery timetable, for example, but have stopped passing this assurance on to the delivery team. The product/service is then delivered after four weeks instead of two and the customer is upset. The customer may understand, however, and fail to report their experience back to your company. Here you have a hidden issue that is undermining your business and removing value from your processes.
Get the whole team involved in this discovery stage to help uncover these hidden issues. You could even start with a customer survey to identify any loss of value from your clients’ perspectives.
When you have identified the problem(s) it’s time to get on with finding solutions. Again, a team approach can be very helpful – don’t reject any idea out of hand. Take a look at each and consider if there is anything in there that may help. Ultimately, the idea is to make your processes as lean as possible, to ensure they add value, and are all completely aligned. Some waste processes can be immediately eliminated while others will need improving through some sort of change in order to deliver value.
Another option is to combine the two methods described above. Start by writing your problem statement, then gather client feedback and complete your value-stream mapping. Then you run a problem-solving session on each touchpoint in your value stream map in order to ensure that every touchpoint delivers maximum value.
Of course, regardless of the method used, the trickiest part is being objective enough to accurately identify the root issues. To help overcome this issue and make the process faster and more effective, organisations will often hire an external consultant to analyse their current processes, identify issues and offer tried-and-tested improvements. They know all the little questions to ask and the steps to follow to drill into the minute details.
Consultants will also be experienced in helping other organisations solve challenges and will, therefore, know what works in different situations.
If you don’t have the budget for a full-time consultant, you can always use platforms like Consulthon in order to get some free ideas around what the problem may be and how to approach the issue from expert consultants. You can then arrange follow-up calls or meetings with the consultant with the best approach, allowing you to check-in with an expert at key milestones along the way.
Hiring a consultant won’t necessarily be cheap but comprehensively and effectively improving your processes can help deliver consistent quality, service and brand experience, releasing untapped potential, innovation and growth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marieta Bencheva is co-founder of Consulthon, a UK Management Consulting Expert Network. Businesses can raise a Business Challenge and the network’s experts will brainstorm solutions. After selecting the answer they like the most, the business can book a paid one-hour advisory call and deep-dive session with that consultant. All the consultants are vetted by Consulthon and the platform offers businesses access to a wide range of skills, in a variety of sectors and countries.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CONSULTHON @consulthon