Step 1: Identify the processes that need improvement
The first step is to identify the processes you want to improve. You should focus on those that occur most frequently or that are most critical to your business, as improving those will deliver the greatest benefits.
There are a few practices that make identifying processes easier. Consider appointing someone as your “process expert,” whose role is to become intimately familiar with all your organization’s processes. Without a single person — or committee — that knows all your processes inside and out, you won’t be able to get a complete picture of how they interact and the relative importance of each.
You should also engage with key stakeholders in every department to discover their perspective on which processes could benefit most from optimization. Finally, establish criteria for sorting and prioritizing processes that make sense for your company, like which processes are performed most often or which carry the greatest risk for your business if they break down.
Step 2: Determine areas for optimization and develop possible solutions
After you’ve selected a process, evaluate it to find areas where it can be improved. Identify the slowest, most inconsistent, or most costly elements of the process, and assess whether there is an opportunity to make them better. Business process modeling, which involves the creation of a diagram to visualize all steps in a process, is one of the best ways to see which stages of the process are ripe for improvement.
Consider asking some of the following questions when determining how to optimize your processes:
● Why does the process exist? Taking a high level view of the goal of the process can help clarify the results you’re looking to get, and it can also indicate whether the process might be redundant.
● Do all the parts fit? Look at each step in the process closely to identify inefficiencies. For example, the process may have unnecessary steps that can be removed, or it may be possible to perform some steps at the same time rather than sequentially.
● What do the numbers say? Identifying and analyzing important metrics allows you to focus on those that are below par and the processes that relate to them.
● Which parts of the process cost the most? Find the steps in the process that have the greatest effect on your bottom line, as improving those is likely to be impactful.
● Ask why the results aren’t there. For processes that are underperforming, dig in and determine the underlying causes. This can reveal potential solutions that may have otherwise escaped your notice.
Asking questions like these, and pursuing them to their conclusion, can reveal the reasons that lie behind process shortcomings and show how to correct them.
For instance, employees may complain that expense reimbursements are taking too long to complete. You create a process model using a workflow management tool and examine each step of the expense reimbursement process in turn. When you get to the review step, you find that the data shows that there is a significant time gap between filing the expense reimbursement request and approval.
Your HR team explains this by noting that recent cutbacks have led to them prioritizing other mission critical issues above reimbursement requests. You’ve identified the issue in the process, and you can now evaluate a range of possible solutions, from raising the priority of approving expense reimbursement requests — if the other HR issues can afford to wait — to exploring an automated process for approval.