Let’s face it. As business people, we have the tendency to complicate things, especially when it comes to a business workflow or process. Whether your work involves onboarding new customers, checking vendor shipments, conducting field inspections or doing quality checks, going about your daily job is really about following one or several processes. The more efficiently and effectively you do these processes allows you to do your jobs better–and hopefully go home at a decent hour.
Having helped thousands of businesses streamline and better manage their most critical and complex operational workflows, we’ve pulled together a simple six-step guide to help you streamline any critical process or business workflow.
Step 1: Take a business workflow inventory
It may sound strange, but you’d be surprised how many large organizations don’t document or define their work processes–even their most important ones.
So the very first step is to list all of the processes or workflows that your business, your division or even your individual department follows to do your daily work. Keep the list simple. List each process, write down what you believe the purpose of that process is, and then list all of the people within your organization involved with this process.
The goal here is to be as thorough and exhaustive as you can. Even if it seems like a simple or routine process, like managing work projects or ordering lunches for the crew on Fridays, if it takes someone’s time and effort on a regular basis to do it, it’s a process. Write it down.
Step 2: Rank your processes
Did your list surprise you? Most people are surprised at just how many processes they actually have to follow on a daily or weekly basis to do their work.
With your list in hand, stack rank each business workflow you’ve written down from most important to least important. This is not easy, as most processes seem super important. Why else would you do them? Moreover, many processes are often inter-related or dependent. You can’t do one without the other. As difficult as it is, we recommend doing your best to stack rank your processes for no other reason than to help decide which process to streamline first, second, third and so on.
Step 3: Break down the process
The next step is to break down one of your processes into discrete steps—the more granular the better. For some people, it’s easiest to draw out the process on a piece of paper. Others prefer outlining their business workflow process in a spreadsheet or Word document. If the process involves other people–which it typically does–it’s also a good idea to share your drawing or spreadsheet with others to help fill in the blanks.
Again, the key is to keep it simple. Many business processes are complex, so it’s easy to get caught up in all the various conditions, dependencies or decision points within any given process. What’s most important is to generally capture the beginning, middle and end (or desired outcome) of the process you’re aiming to streamline.
Step 4: Solicit feedback
When it comes to improving any business workflow or process, the old adage, “progress, not perfection” is best. Very few processes are ever perfect. Moreover, the business and world around us is constantly changing, so it only makes sense that our work processes need to evolve over time as well.
This is a good time to solicit help from colleagues, co-workers, subordinates and supervisors. Get feedback from anyone directly or indirectly involved in the business workflow chain or the outcomes that the process produces. Seek their opinion on how to streamline steps, improve efficiency, or maybe even try something completely new. While you’ll occasionally identify big changes to processes, more often than not the input to improve is often small and subtle. Don’t discredit these small tweaks! Even the smallest improvement can have a big impact.
Step 5: Automate your business workflow
Care to guess the most common tool people use to track and manage their work processes? The answer is spreadsheets. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of businesses report using spreadsheets to track their critical processes and projects. Although a simple solution, using a spreadsheet to track a critical business workflow can be problematic. They’re difficult to share and keep up to date, as most people have to email them around to others for updates. Spreadsheets are also prone to data errors, as people mistakenly overwrite someone else’s input or just “fat finger” the wrong information or formula into a spreadsheet row or cell.
The good news is that there are a host of modern workflow software solutions, including TrackVia, that are specifically designed to help streamline business processes and workflows. Sometimes referred to as “workflow” or BPM (business process management) software, they vary in terms of features and capabilities. Most, however, are designed to make it easy to centrally collect data, automate steps in a business workflow, and generate better visibility with graphs, charts and reports. Modern workflow solutions like TrackVia also provide advanced capabilities such as mobile and intelligent workflow to further streamline more critical and complex business processes.
Step 6: Refine, refine, refine
As previously mentioned, no process or workflow is perfect. So once you’ve improved your existing process or have implemented new workflow automation software, expect to refine your process over time. Again, modern business workflow solutions make it easy to refine your process or workflow by allowing you to adjust or improve your workflow with simple drag-and-drop mouse clicks.
Hopefully these six simple suggestions are helpful. Of course, we realize that you’re busy. Maybe so busy that you don’t even have time to improve the processes you already have. If that’s the case, we’re happy to help. Streamlining critical workflows and processes is what we do and we’re happy to help however we can.
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