Process efficiency drives profitability by reducing cost. Although this may be trite advice it is easy for team members to ignore this maxim, find process workarounds, bypass the process to achieve their own agenda, or not make decision makers aware of process gaps or issues just due to personal inclination or fear. This leads to manual or incomplete processes that slow down your value generating engine and reduce profitability.
So we all know the problem. How can you uncover and fill these process gaps? As a process analyst you must to go directly to the individuals who are executing the activities in the process rather than looking down from a high level through group leaders. While involved just observe to understand what is happening and don’t intervene. You want to gather as many problem statements as possible so they can be resolved through training, systems, or management.
Understand the organizational goals so you can prioritize your focus. There are many problems that occur in processes throughout the organization and if you’re focused on the ones that don’t achieve important goals then you are creating waste yourself. You can ask this directly to stakeholders once you generate a list of problems and have a working session to rank order them. Come to that session with what you think the priority is. Sometimes stakeholders will tell you that they are all high priority. If that happens then ask what order should the tasks be worked on. That is a roundabout way to ask for prioritization without demeaning the importance of each task.
Then, document the process current state related to priority goals in detail along with the gaps and problems in it. Ideally, get other individuals to report this through surveys or free text feedback that you can organize through various applications instead of putting it in your own words. This will allow you to get more data and find patterns as well as get more accurate problem statements that team members will be more likely to align to. If required then follow up with individuals and teams for clarification and record sessions as much as possible to ensure accuracy. Once you’ve gathered multiple points of view create user stories that describe what the stakeholders what to achieve. Use a requirement management tool like Jira or Rally to track these. Use a process flow tools such as Visio and Lucid Chart to document the steps for easier visualization.
Once you get a good feel for the current state and alignment from the appropriate stakeholders that you have understood the feedback correctly then start brainstorming ideas to decrease or eliminate steps in the process which will speed up time to value such as generate more revenue or decrease soft costs like employee time. Automate repetitive tasks as much as possible. Business process automation technology can address most of the administrative tasks which means that with the right expertise, systems, and focus you can eliminate a lot of waste right away. The ones that you can’t automate address through process, communication, and management.
That said, sometimes process waste comes from an incomplete plan and inconsistent discipline. For example, for your sales activities ensure that the appropriate marketing research has been done first. Your sales reps need to have a clear value proposition and a list of contacts that have a high probability of interest in your message. If your sales reps are just starting at the first person on the street and going house by house asking for a deal without any clear strategy it will take a lot of iteration before they figure out how to close a deal. While this is sort of a silly example I’ve see sales and marketing strategies that are not far from it. Therefore, create a plan and help your team out so they don’t waste a lot of time, effort, and importantly your money.
Once you’re confident in your analysis and recommendations align with various stakeholders and process owners to get their feedback. You may need to iterate through this process a few times to get it completely right. You may not have everyone on board with the approach but you at least want the main decision makers in alignment.
If and when you get stakeholder alignment you will probably be leading or at least involved in the execution to improve a process. This is where things don’t always go according to plan which means you’ll need to be flexible and adapt. If you do this well you’ll most likely succeed in improving the process. Although it may feel like you are zigzagging towards your goal this is normal. You’ll soon realize that you ability to figure things out and think on your feet are the most important skill. That said, this doesn’t mean have no or incomplete plan but realize that your plan won’t be perfect so you will need to get good at reflecting, thinking retrospectively, and refining the plan to take corrective action if you want success.
The fun with process improvement (or any improvement for that matter) is that it is continuous. The only time where you really fail is if you and your organization stop innovating and getting better. So, pick something and start improving it!