The American management consultant W. Edwards Deming once said: "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing". Can YOU? Can you describe your daily work as business processes? Can your co-workers? If you all had to deliver the same outcome, would you do it in the same way? If so, is it the most efficient way?
These are only a few questions, but they already expose a daily struggle in many organizations. They expose the need for having well-documented, optimized and compliant business processes. Allow me to share our vision on business processes and how they will contribute to your own unified workplace. In the next sections, I will encourage you with four reasons to invest in your business processes: consistency of service, insights in and optimization of the work flows, and knowledge sharing.
Most of the knowledge of the daily business processes is in the heads of the organization's employees. Moreover, each employee has its own way of dealing with his daily tasks. Admit it, you have your own way of doing your work and it seems to function well. So why should you change?
Before I dive into my argumentation, a definition of "a business process" would be appropriate. A business process is a series of linked activities and tasks, which accomplish an organizational goal. Each business process has a clearly defined input and an output. In other words, a business process has a clear point of input, which is transformed into its output, through a series of activities. For example, a product assembly process, an invoicing process, a holiday request process, … Putting these business processes in place and enjoying their benefits requires a lot of effort from different people. We have the stakeholders, owning the organizational goals; the analysts, creating the business processes to achieve the goals; the IT engineers, building the systems to execute the business processes; and the users, using the system and thus carrying out the business processes.
I hope now you are ready to lend an ear to our four reasons for investing in your business processes: consistency of service, insights in and optimization of the work flows, and knowledge-sharing.
Tip #1 in growing your unified workplace: engage every one of your employees to obey the business processes and deliver consistent results to all your stakeholders.
First, business processes make sure your business is performed in a consistent manner. Everyone in your organization will perform the same activities in the same order in the same way.
On the one hand, this implies a consistent service towards your customers and suppliers. Each customer or supplier will be aided the same way. Imagine how confused a customer would be if one day he should perform different tasks to obtain the same result, just because he is assisted by another employee. Performing tasks strictly according to the processes, allows an efficient communication with all stakeholders and a profitable collaboration.
At one of our clients’, there were two departments working on the same platform. Through that platform, they had to schedule inspections for their customers. The inspections themselves are executed by a third party. Thus, both departments had to communicate the scheduling with this third party. One day, we all sat down in the workshop to discuss the business process of communicating with this third party. It was only then the two departments found out they communicated in a different way. For the third party, it was confusing that different departments, although they belong to the same company, request their inspections in a different way. Only by documenting the business process, the departments discovered the inconsistency and decided to choose one communication method.
On the other hand, when everybody is performing the processes the same way, the performance of the processes can be measured. In contrast to when the employees each have their own manners. How will you then measure the duration, the efficiency, and so on? This ability to measure the performances of the business processes leads towards new insights, which brings us to reason #2.
Tip #2 in growing your unified workplace: lend a better visibility and understanding of the business processes to encourage the collaboration between different departments, teams or levels in your organization.
Second, the employees will gain insights into the business processes. These insights can be obtained on various levels. For example, the management can easily extract which inputs lead to which outputs. In other words, what is causing good or bad numbers?
Moreover, by defining business processes over all departments, you will enable cross-pollination and multi-perspective views, which will be rewarded with valuable information. When you gain insights into your landscape of business processes, you can start optimizing. This leads us to reason #3.
As we have seen in the previous example, the two departments found out they were executing the same process in a different way. Obviously, one process will be more efficient than the other. So, this case is literally screaming for optimization. More specific, for increasing the efficiency and enhancing the collaboration between the two departments and between the departments and the third party.
Tip #3 in growing your unified workplace: make resources available to invest in optimization of your business processes in order to provide optimal service to your stakeholders.
Third, as you start gaining insights into your business processes, you will soon find the gaps and inefficiencies. These gaps and inefficiencies are the first in line to be addressed when you start talking about optimizing your business. Which activities can be digitized? Which activities are obsolete? Which activities can be executed in parallel to gain time? Which activities are a bit woozy and need more attention? I can go on and on, as process optimization is a job on its own.
Optimizing your business processes has a direct impact on your customers, suppliers and employees, using these processes on a daily base. They will experience less problems, a shorter walk-through time, a more digital flow, and so on. As you might have found out, in this rapidly changing world, you must adapt quickly to the needs of your stakeholders in order to stay one step ahead of your competitors.
Sometimes, even the smallest changes can lead to fair winnings. One of our clients had a process which involved waiting on a signed piece of paper from their customers. Every day, an employee received a pile of signed letters of different customers in the mail. The employee had to scan each letter, place it in the correct folder on the file server and upload it to their custom application. This was a very time-consuming process, so our client decided to optimize it. And so we aided. We added a unique barcode to each letter that their customers should sign. When scanning such a letter, the scanning system recognizes the barcode and immediately knows where the letter should be placed on the file server and where it should be uploaded in the application. As far as the employee concerns, he only has to put the pile of documents in the scanner, hit the start button, walk to his desk and open the application. All documents are in place in no time!
Tip #4 in growing your unified workplace: include some of the workplace knowledge in the business processes and share it amongst the employees to motivate them and increase their collaboration.
Fourth, knowledge is shared throughout the organization. As the business processes are documented and shared, new employees will easily figure out their tasks. You are no longer dependent on the accumulated capacity of your co-worker's brains. If you think about it, does your department has its "knowledge guru"? That one person that knows everything about the daily tasks? That one person we all rely on. Imagine what a loss it would be for the company if that person leaves, or goes on a world trip, or is on long-term illness. Wouldn’t you rather have all that knowledge already embedded within your business processes?
Teams that have a fully transparent workplace, where business processes are visible for everyone, will collaborate more efficiently. They will not waste time or money, because they can focus on their job, having all information they need at hand.
When we fit all of this together, we get the following. In order to have consistent and measurable outcomes you can work with, you need all your employees to follow the documented and agreed upon processes (1). Of course, in order to do that you need to have documented processes. Creating those can make them more visible and encourage collaboration between the different departments (2). Once your employees are communicating and following the established processes, it's time to develop them and make them more productive (3). While doing this, you should make sure that you embed your department's knowledge within them (4).
Can you relate to these challenges? Curious how we can help you tackle them? Contact us!