A well-designed and effectively executed business process can mean the difference between success and failure in a business. Business processes aren’t just what businesses “do” – they define and dictate what businesses are and how they deliver value both internally and to their customers.
But when it comes to business processes, what does “good” look like? Processes will look very different from industry to industry and business to business. We’re not going to tell you that the best business processes are completely automated, and have as few steps as possible. Because this simply isn’t true, and what works well for one business, their size, and their circumstances doesn’t necessarily work for another. There are, however, a few key principles that each and every organisation, large or small, for-profit or not-for-profit should consider when trying to design and implement a good business process.
It should be documented
Probably the most important step in developing and executing a business process – it should be documented. It might seem obvious, but many organisations do not have a documented business process. This means that even if there is an owner for the process, if they leave without handover, the process might exist in their notepad, or in a file on their personal drive. This leaves the business with no record of the process and no clue of how things are done.
Another benefit of documenting the process fully is to be able to spot opportunities for improvements to efficiency. It’s not enough for the process to exist somewhere, and even for it to be observed. In order for opportunities for automation and better resource allocation, you have to start by getting it all down in a format that makes sense.
It should be effective
“Effective” is a bit of a broad statement, but mostly it means that the business process should achieve a goal of some sort. A business process should exist for one reason, and serve one purpose: to deliver value to both the customer and the organisation. In order to do this, it should be carefully aligned not only with customer requirements and customer satisfaction, but with the business’ values and strategy.
A close friend of effectiveness is efficiency, and in order to be efficient, a good process should be as devoid as possible from wasteful, unnecessary and duplicate steps.
But how can you be sure if the process is both effective and efficient?
Someone must be responsible
Like anything in business, if something doesn’t have an owner – someone who is directly responsible for the success and failure of that something – things become messy. And just like each step in your business process will have an owner, so must the process itself. The business must identify a person, or department, who is responsible and targeted on the execution and overall effectiveness of the business process.
They must own not only the day-to-day execution of the process, but they should also constantly look for opportunities for optimisation, and lead improvement initiatives. In order to achieve this, they should be interdepartmental champions of both the customer and the wider business, closely aligned with strategy, values and the needs of the customer. They should have mechanisms in place to measure effectiveness and the skills and resources at hand to interpret this into action.
It should consider a number of scenarios
A common trap many businesses fall into is only running the “sunny day” scenario through their processes, i.e., what happens when everything goes to plan. As you’ll know, as a human being, not everything goes to plan all the time. So what happens if the proverbial does hit the fan? If you don’t have a process in place for when the process doesn’t work as expected, you’re into unknown territory. And once you’re into this no-mans-land, the customer and the business suffer.
It certainly isn’t possible to document every possible scenario though. You can’t be expected to have a business process that covers every logistical problem, equipment failure or natural disaster. When you’re considering which scenarios to map out, it’s a good idea to ask:
- Does it affect the customer?
- Does it affect revenue/profit?
- Does it affect KPIs?
- Does it have a regulatory or legal impact?
- Will it consume significant resources?
It must be agile
We’re sure we don’t need to tell you that your business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Particularly in 2017, with new businesses cropping up all the time to “break” and revolutionise whatever industry they’re in, to survive and thrive an organisation must be truly agile and flexible, ready to respond to rapidly changing customer requirements, market conditions, economic conditions, technological developments, and internal changes.
This point has a practical consideration too – if the process itself needs to be agile, then the process for changing the process should be too. At the most simple level, this means ensuring that the only copy isn’t a huge A1 printout on the wall of a member of the management team. On a slightly more complex level, this means ensuring that whoever is responsible for the process can get changes reviewed and signed off quickly and with little resistance.
A good business process is a solid foundation on which great businesses are built. Without a well-designed process that is effective, measured, managed and continually improved, you can only hope to run in circles, achieving modest success and growth. When it comes to the business, we’re passionate about the how, not just the what. If you’d like to discuss how you could improve your business process, we’d love to hear from you.