The push to optimize business processes is prompted by the need to improve productivity and operational efficiency. Companies should begin with two important elements: 1) process mapping, to understand the current flow of work and 2) identifying problems and impediments to the workflow. Previously we examined why existing work processes are performed as they are; now let’s take a look at identifying if and where a break occurs, what causes the breaks or impediments to the processes, and ultimately how to correct the problems and create a smooth workflow.
Creating a process map will often identify areas of breakdown, but it won’t necessarily identify the reasons for the breakdown. There can be many reasons a workflow breaks down and it is up to the team conducting the assessment to identify them.
Outmoded processes often remain a business’s accepted methodology, from force of habit, lack of resources or simply focus on other areas of business development. Significant changes that may have taken place in the organization — different goals, different workflows, different organizational makeups and different IT infrastructure are all changes that are likely to have taken place if it has been a while since the last time the process was examined. It is extremely common for business processes to outlive their original intended processes and this leads to bottlenecks and breakdowns.
Fortunately for everyone involved, it may not be necessary to map out every single process or task in order to find the most significant process slowdowns. For most businesses, that is not even feasible. Nevertheless, mapping out and walking through the major steps of specific business processes is instrumental in helping to identify where process impediments occur. There are a number of factors that can create these impediments and block processes. They can include everything from human factors like employee turnover or simple input errors to more complicated issues, like poor system integration, siloed departments that prevent communication, or redundant systems that simply create bottlenecks.
Identifying these impediments is not always easy, but there are some signs to look for. Is there a particular area — a department or a system — where things constantly slow down? A backlog of work is frequently a sign that there is a break in the system, as is a consistent overuse of resources in a certain area. Just like a clogged drain, a stoppage in the system is a good indicator that something is wrong, and something — improved processes, automation, or simply finding places where the tasks are not being implemented properly — needs to loosen the clog and get things moving again.
What will get things moving in the clogged drain of business? Process improvement. Identifying areas where companies can gain operational efficiencies will help shake things up. Consolidating assets, resources and partners could provide significant productivity boosts by eliminating redundancies. Other opportunities are more employee-centric and might involve revising individual roles and responsibilities.
For most organizations, streamlining paper-based workflow is a natural place to optimize business processes and improve productivity. This may involve digitization — either digitizing paper content or automating existing paper-based workflow. Digitization is a huge challenge for businesses today, most of which have been strongly invested in paper-based workflows. It is a difficult transition, but one most organizations are undertaking to some degree — usually through document management or enterprise content management systems.
Another area for process improvement for many companies is in siloed systems. Often the problem facing organizations seeking to improve processes is compounded because the content is stored not only in legacy formats, but in disparate, siloed locations. Even information stored in digital format is stored in file repositories across the organization, including external hard drives, on-premise networked storage and cloud locations.
Thorough workflow assessments and process mapping are critical to both identifying these issues and determining solutions. Additionally, they can help provide a viable outline for wary management and employees and assuage the concerns that inevitably come along with a change to the process. All those involved can gain a good understanding of the process prior to any change being implemented.
Workflow assessments don’t have to be undertaken without help. The “trusted advisor” can offer a number of advanced consultative services that include workflow assessments and business process optimization services. Streamlined processes, optimized workflow and better-performing employees are all within reach.
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