Business process management is a practice that entails both process maintenance and continuous process improvement. Both are key to ensuring that business processes are running smoothly, creating the results they were designed to achieve, without creating additional problems or process inefficiencies, such as software bloat, an increase in manual work, and information silos.
Use this guide to learn how to improve and streamline processes for better business results and more productive teams. But first, let’s define a couple of terms.
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Workflow vs. process: What’s the difference?
A workflow is the steps required to complete a task or reach a specific goal. Workflows usually have a start and end point. A workflow is made up of the following elements:
- Start or trigger event
- Result or end event
- Actors (people, systems, tools)
- Information (data, documents)
- Work (tasks, effort, resources)
A process is a diverse range of systematic tasks like recurring or periodic activities that interact to produce a result. Usually, a process will be made up of workflows. Processes have a start and end point, or they function continuously. Most business processes fall into one of three categories:
- Operational (processes that keep a business running)
- Management (processes that provide oversight of operational processes)
- Supportive (processes that support operational processes)
What is “streamlining”?
In order to define what streamlining means for processes and workflows, let’s go back to the basics. According to Merriam-Webster, to streamline is to “modernize, organize, and to make it simpler or more efficient.”
When applied to business processes and workflows, streamlining usually means eliminating and/or automating unnecessary, repetitive, or redundant tasks, steps, or repeatable activities. By streamlining these steps, tasks, or activities, businesses can achieve:
- Simplified workflows
- Better process efficiency
- Higher employee productivity
- Modernized legacy technologies, tools, or systems
- Lower operating costs
- Improved communication or collaboration
- Less resource waste
- Better compliance and control
- Operational excellence
- Operational efficiency
Signs that it’s time to streamline
There are many signs that can indicate it’s time for a business process refresh, but these are the key signs to look for and how they may potentially impact teams.
|Manual follow-ups, notifications, or approval requests||– Approval delays which can impact various processes, such as purchasing, accounts payable, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and customer support|
– Too much time managing manual tasks can negatively impact customer or requester satisfaction
– Can lead to incurred business costs
|Tools or technology create additional delays or issues rather than solving them||– Security risks; employees may resort to DIY shadow IT solutions without consulting IT|
|Redundant tasks and lots of rework||– Wastes of resources|
– Prone to human errors
|Back and forth between emails, spreadsheets, and tools||– Inefficient and time-consuming |
– Waste of resources
– May introduce costly errors due to manual data transfers
|Work is delayed, and bottlenecks have become an expected part of the process||– Late payments or fees|
– Missed deadlines or approvals
– Low productivity, employee morale, and engagement
– Dissatisfied customers
|Work is not standardized or structured||– Results are inconsistent due to individuals following their own process or procedure|
– Business policies and procedures are not followed which leads to rogue spending and non-compliance
– Data security risks and costly errors
Components of a streamlined process
In addition to being able to identify when a process or workflow needs to be streamlined, it’s just as important to understand how a streamlined process or workflow operates.
Efficiency and speed
Teams don’t spend valuable hours resolving bottlenecks, making up for process delays, chasing down stakeholders, or working through complex workflows. This improves process performance and speeds up production cycles and request turnaround times.
Clarity and consistency
Processes are free of complexity, and steps, procedures, policies, and workflows are clearly defined and easily repeatable. This produces consistent results, free of confusion or misunderstandings.
Structure and standardization
Processes are properly structured and built to perform effectively, and standardized to collect and organize the information correctly every time.
Automation and integration
These two components are by far the most powerful and impactful. By leveraging a business process automation solution, process inefficiencies are streamlined and, in many cases, even eliminated. That means no more rework, manual data entry, follow-ups, approval notifications, or emails.
And by integrating the automation software with the technology, tools, and systems that power teams, end-to-end process visibility, accuracy, trackability, accountability, stack extensibility, and operational efficiency are easier to achieve.
How to streamline a process or workflow in 12 steps
1. Define desired outcomes and objectives
Since you’ve decided it’s time to streamline your processes, it’s likely that you have some idea (even if it’s super high-level) of what’s wrong and how to make it right. Kick off your process streamlining by defining what you want to accomplish by streamlining processes and workflows, why, and how you plan on achieving these results.
At this point, the idea isn’t to get too granular with metrics or specific improvements (that’ll come later).
2. Identify and map the processes and workflows you’d like to streamline
This includes identifying the processes or workflows you’d like to streamline, mapping them out to gather a complete picture of their purpose and function, and the output each produces and how effectively that’s being done.
It’s important to identify all the elements that make up your processes or workflows, like:
- Actors (the people, systems, or tools that impact the work by completing tasks or enabling the flow)
- Work (the tasks, steps, or activities that are necessary to produce a desired outcome or result)
- Information (the data or documents needed to keep the workflow in motion and produce an accurate result)
- Starting point (trigger, action, time, or condition that puts the workflow into motion)
- Outcome (result)
3. Conduct a business process analysis
With the as-is process purpose, function, and flow defined and mapped, conducting a business process analysis is necessary to decide the to-be function and purpose of new processes and technology. Questions to consider as you analyze processes or workflows include:
- Is the process delivering the desired results?
- Does the process introduce any unnecessary risks?
- Does the process use the most effective technology?
- Does the process create value or waste?
- Is the process slowed by unnecessary friction?
- Does the process encounter silos to data sharing or collaboration?
- Can the process be optimized using existing resources, or are additional tools or systems needed for improvement?
This step may be overwhelming, especially if your plans include streamlining more than one process or a process that’s connected to various workflows. Rather than doing everything in one big swoop, consider breaking up the areas that need to be streamlined into smaller projects that ladder up to the larger goal.
4. Review process performance and benchmarks
You can’t improve what you’re not aware of, so this step ensures that you have all the historical data you need to make the right decisions.
With this data documented, you then also have a baseline to compare your new streamlined processes. This helps determine whether the improvements have been successful, or whether additional adjustments are needed.
5. Interview process users and owners
In addition to looking at processes, consider interviewing the people closest to their day-to-day management. These close interactions with processes and workflows may lead to insights that weren’t identified during the initial business process analysis or benchmarks. It can also help answer questions like:
- What is the impact of the process on customer satisfaction?
- How does the process contribute to or diminish employee experience?
These same insights are essential to developing the solutions needed for streamlining processes.
6. Identify automation opportunities and process gaps
Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to start thinking about what can be improved, eliminated, or redone. This is also a chance to determine how to best streamline processes and workflows with business process automation software.
Leveraging a low-code automation solution will not only make it easy to automate tasks or steps, but it will also make it easier to optimize processes and workflows as needs arise. Check out this article to learn how to identify automation opportunities and use low-code automation software.
7. Define performance metrics
With a high-level idea of desired objectives and outcomes, bring those results to life by defining how you’ll track the to-be improvements you outlined in the previous steps. Depending on your goals or industry, these will vary to consider what’s relevant to your team or department. While there are universal metrics that can be applied, here are some department-specific examples.
- Sales: Lead cycle time, lead conversion rate, lead-to-opportunity conversion rate, lost leads, ACV
- HR: Retention rate, employee engagement, cost-per-hire, time-to-hire
- P2P: Cost per invoice, invoice processing time, first-time match rate, duplicate payments rate
8. Document changes
This can’t be emphasized enough. Documenting changes ensures that everyone impacted by the updates is on the same page and understands the new policies, protocols, or procedures. This means processes are easily repeatable and are set up to provide consistent results no matter who’s managing processes.
Poor documentation can not only impact the success of your streamlining, but it can also lead to bigger issues for your business, including security risks, costly errors, lower productivity, and poor customer and employee experiences.
9. Implement automations
It’s time to put those automation opportunities you identified earlier into action. Below is a brief summary of manual tasks that can be automated.
|Frequent||High volumes that must be completed multiple times in an hour, day, or week|
|Repetitive||Involves the same steps or inputs each time|
|Simple||Does not require complex information or problem-solving|
|Scheduled||Regularly occurs at the same time or on the same day each week or month|
|Predictable||Planned element of a regular workflow or process|
|Collaborative||Requires action, input, approval, or visibility from multiple stakeholders|
|Dependent||Triggered by a specific event or change in status|
|Communication||Emails or notifications|
10. Test the improvements
Once all improvements have been made, consider a “soft launch” with a small team to troubleshoot and test improvements before launching them officially. This way, if something isn’t working then changes can be made quickly and in a controlled environment.
11. Share knowledge with teams and relevant stakeholders
Once processes or workflows are ready to be launched, it’s time to communicate changes with stakeholders or process owners. With your documentation ready, knowledge sharing and getting everyone on the same page is made easier.
If your automation software allows, make changes available to everyone by uploading them to a document portal that everyone can access. Or, share the changes via automated email once the process is deployed.
12. Monitor and evaluate performance
Most low-code automation software includes reporting capabilities or customizable dashboards. With these features, track how your new processes or workflows perform by using the KPIs you defined earlier and building a process dashboard. Allow anywhere from three to six months for the process to mature, and collect month-to-month data to determine whether the streamlined process or workflow is increasing productivity and efficiency.
If everything is working as planned, congrats! You’ve successfully streamlined your processes. If the data indicates room for improvement, make the necessary adjustments and, most importantly, be sure to communicate those changes.
Pipefy: the answer for streamlined and efficient processes
With your plan in place, the next step is choosing the right technology to unclog bottlenecks and resolve inefficiencies.
Pipefy is a low-code process automation tool that makes streamlining and automating processes easy. With a visual user interface, Pipefy empowers business users with a toolbox of IT-approved features and capabilities so changes can be made quickly and securely.
Integrate your existing stack with Pipefy to deliver a streamlined and unified user experience, free of data silos, communication interruptions, collaboration barriers, and costly inefficiencies like manual and repetitive work (and rework).