Six steps to improve your business processes
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
A while back, I remember someone explaining process improvement using an analogy: doing the laundry. I really liked it because I’m one of those people that I constantly look for ways to improve my processes at home to be more efficient and effective, so let me share it with you.
If we were going to do the laundry as my grandma did back in the day, we’d put lots of time and effort into it: hours of hand washing (with handmade soap) using a basin, a clothesline, and a lot of elbow grease. Luckily, the process of doing laundry has evolved and improved over the years - now, we have access to washing machines and driers (fabulous tools) that take care of it in a fraction of the time.
The same concept can be applied to many things in business. In this article, I’d like to talk about process improvement and how we can make it happen. Let’s have a look!
What is process improvement and why is it important?
Process improvement is making processes simple by streamlining and automating where you can to make them better so you can do things faster and easier than you did before, costing you less.
Process improvement supports business growth by:
Simplifying and streamlining tasks
Saving time and money
It “pushes” you to analyse your business or organisation
With this in mind, when should you be looking at improving processes in your business? The following red flags might be a sign it’s time to look deeper into your existing processes:
When you’re getting a lot of feedback (bad or constructive) from your customers and team members
When you’re struggling to keep up with the demand
When you’re doing the same things over and over again (repetitive tasks and/or activities)
When work is duplicated or not done
Steps to improve your processes
Step 1: Map the Process
First, you need to decide which processes you need to improve. A good start would be those processes that are holding you back.
Once you’ve identified which one needs to go first, document the process. Doing it visually would help you along the process. It’s important to explore every step in detail and include any sub-steps. Consult the team to make sure everything is included to ensure that you don’t overlook anything important.
Step 2: Analyse the process
Investigate the problems within the process. Consider the following questions:
Where do team members or customers get frustrated?
Which of these steps creates a bottleneck?
Where do costs go up and/or quality go down?
Which of these steps requires the most time, or causes the most delays?
Speak to the people who are affected by the process. What do they think is wrong with it? And what suggestions do they have for improving it? Include everyone involved in the process.
Step 3: Redesign the Process
Once you have analysed the current process and found those things that could be eliminated or improved, you can start redesigning it. As mentioned above, it’s best to include everyone involved in the process for a number of reasons: they might have ideas and new approaches, and also, they’ll be probably more inclined to buy into changes if they’ve been included.
Once you and your team agree on a process, create new diagrams to document each step. If you don’t have a current SOP template, feel free to use this simple guidelines / template.
Step 4: Locate available resources
Now it’s time to find the resources you need to implement the new process. Engage with management and relevant people and make sure that everyone understands how the new process will benefit the organisation as a whole.
Step 5: Implement and communicate change
It's likely that improving your business process will involve changing existing systems, teams or processes. Rolling out your new process could be a project in itself, and keep in mind that change is not easy. People might resist change, especially when it involves a process that they've been using for a long time.
Step 6: Review
Once you roll out the new process, monitor how things are going in the weeks and months that follow, to ensure that the process is performing to expectations (and fix issues as they show up). Make sure you ask for feedback from the people involved in the process - this is crucial.
Continuous improvement is key to improving processes' performance. Therefore, I’d invite you to review regularly the new process to ensure that the process stays relevant and efficient.