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Good processes are the lifeblood of any organization. Well-defined (and followed) processes allow you to consistently achieve results and drive your business forward. But it’s easy to get so caught up fighting day-to-day fires that your processes get left to chance. If your operational processes aren’t creating the results you need — because they are either overly cumbersome or not robust enough — here are five questions that can help steer them in the right direction.

How can we make this process simpler?

Business processes can easily get convoluted. That’s because they are often formed on an ad hoc basis, with new steps added as you encounter different issues. Likewise, when more than one person does the work, they tend to do it differently — especially if they’re coming from another company that has its own way of doing something similar.

But this complexity is the enemy of a good process. The more steps and manual labor in a process, the more likely it is to break, producing poor results. Wherever possible, try to reduce the steps and complexity of your processes. Eliminate as much manual labor as possible using customized automation tools and alerts. Then make sure everyone on your team is completing the process the same way. Making your core business processes simple and consistent will help you produce regular, repeatable results with the fewest headaches.

Which steps seem to create a bottleneck?

When part of a process doesn’t have sufficient resources dedicated to it, the result is often a bottleneck — a backlog of work that’s just waiting to be done. Sometimes this can be a physical backlog, such as if there aren’t enough machines available to make the parts needed to assemble a particular product. Other times, the bottleneck comes from a lack of labor resources. That is, there aren’t enough people assigned to keep up with the work. This is a problem many businesses are experiencing acutely right now. In this case, you may need to reassign people to the task, hire more people to handle it, or simplify the work (see above) so it can be completed by the available resources.

Finally, sometimes a bottleneck is created when someone in management insists on individually reviewing and approving some part of the work. This is the worst kind of bottleneck. Whenever possible, hire good people and let them perform their work based on approved guidelines. If there are specific instances requiring approval from senior management, define those parameters and make them part of the process. For example, you may want to require management approval to offer discounts over a certain percentage. Custom business software can be programmed to require approval in these limited cases while letting your team complete their work as usual otherwise. This will help alleviate the bottleneck and free management up to focus on more strategic priorities.

Who all needs to be involved?

Sometimes, the biggest issue with a process isn’t the steps involved — it’s the people charged with executing them. Or rather, it’s the fact that you haven’t defined who is responsible for each step of the process. My colleague Chris Nelson has previously written about using the RACI matrix to define how different people in your organization should be involved in a project. Likewise, your core business processes should have a similar outline for who is:

  • Responsible — who has to do the work?
  • Accountable — who approves the work?
  • Consulted — who provides needed input?
  • Informed — who needs to receive reports?

The big difference is that in a standard, ongoing process, instead of specifying a particular person for each of those boxes, you identify the appropriate role. That way, as personnel change seats (either through promotions, reorganization, or turnover), the right people are still involved.

How do we know it’s working?

The purpose of any process is to ensure that work gets done, consistently and in a way that benefits the organization. But how do you know if you’re getting the results you need? As Peter Drucker famously said, what gets measured gets managed. So you need to be measuring the outcomes of your processes. This can be done at both the individual level — did we do it right this time? — and in the aggregate — are we consistently producing positive results?

The harder part is knowing what specifically to measure. This is going to depend on your organization’s unique operations and goals. Most importantly, you want to define metrics that correlate to actual success factors. Avoid capturing vanity metrics that help you feel good but don’t affect behavior. In other words, if your metrics start to go in the wrong direction, it should inspire your team to action.

Having clear systems in place for tracing your work and measuring the results is key. A good internal system can step employees through the designated process workflow and collect the data required for measuring their results. Then it can automatically deliver those metrics to the executives who need them to make timely business decisions.

How does this business process contribute to our core focus?

Of course, process for the sake of process is never a good outcome. Any documented process should tie directly into your core focus — above and beyond just making money. So if your organization’s reason for being is “to create lifelong relationships with raving fans,” how do your processes help you achieve that? Likewise, if your brand promise is “building quality into every product,” that’s going to lead to a different set of processes.

Ideally, every process is helping you achieve your organization’s mission statement. But it’s easy to create processes that bog you down in the minutiae of daily operations. That’s why the most successful companies routinely re-examine their processes to ensure they are still viable and valuable. And when they no longer are, those organizations throw them out without regret. A process should never stand in the way of achieving your big, hairy business goals.

If your core business processes aren’t working as hard for your business as you do, Traust may be able to help. Let’s connect to see how we can create business tools tailored to your unique operations — in weeks, not months.