Understanding Existing Processes to Improve Workflow

“Workflow” and “process optimization” are increasingly common terms heard in today’s business as companies seek ways to improve and optimize existing business processes. Typically, this search for workflow optimization is prompted by a very real need to improve productivity and operational efficiency — a need that is evident across all business segments and vertical industries. Many organizations, both small and large, have or are putting in place strategic directives or procedural policies for continuous process improvement. Frequently, however, particularly in the case of small businesses, the idea of process optimization is often met with a great deal of apprehension. Employees and managers alike are so busy dealing with the day-to-day tasks of running a business that there is rarely time to truly evaluate current work processes. Most can easily identify areas where improved efficiency is needed, but without a clear understanding of the problem, there is a general reluctance to simply throw time, money, and resources at a solution.

As a consequence, existing business processes put in place years ago have simply become accepted methodology, despite significant changes in the organizational makeup, goals, and IT infrastructure. In many cases, legacy business processes outlive the intended consequences for which they were initially designed.

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When it comes to driving real process optimization, companies should begin with two important elements: 1) understand why existing work processes are performed as they are, and 2) identify if and where a break occurs in the system. Let’s look at the first element.

Identifying existing processes through workflow assessments

The first step toward improving process efficiency is understanding the existing processes, and this can be done through a complete workflow assessment. Often, companies have legacy processes and procedures in effect; they were put into place before any of the current management or employees were in their roles, or even at a company, and are simply a habitual way of handling things. An assessment of these processes can uncover both strengths and weaknesses in the system but will serve as a baseline for understanding how things are being done.

In some cases, there are still employees involved in the processes who have been with the company and involved in some way since the inception. Involving these employees in the assessment process is a smart move for a couple of reasons: it helps with understanding the processes and also increases employee buy-in, which is essential to the success of any new programs.

The workflow assessment will examine current processes, hardware, software, infrastructure, security, and more. It will map out the flow of information throughout the organization and help identify areas where improvements can be made.

Business process mapping

Business process mapping does just what it says: it creates a map of existing business process, helping visualize the processes that have been identified in the assessment process. Either manually or using software designed for the purpose, business process mapping shows the current flow of operations and the people and tools needed for that flow.

In developing a business process map, two goals can be achieved: a current process can be documented and understood, and a new, improved process can be developed based on that understanding. Sometimes called business process modeling,

Once the assessment has been completed, it is time to identify impediments, breaks and ultimately, opportunities for process improvement. A future blog will examine these areas and the tools and resources they entail.

It is important for businesses to understand that, when it comes to understanding workflow, identifying processes and creating workflow improvements, they are not on their own. In fact, it is highly recommended that organizations find a consultative partner to help guide them through the process. A trusted partner can be an invaluable resource for taking the next step in the process of workflow optimization.