Streamline Process Efficiency – In Spite Of What You May Have Been Told, is Something everyone wants to do, but few actually get around to doing it or they do it incorrectly.
The majority of processes are developed on an ad hoc basis, over time and due to sheer repetition, the process becomes the standard model for getting things done. Most businesses will leave it at that, a solution has been implemented the problem no longer exists. Whilst that is technically true, it is unlikely that it’s the best way to do things, you should assess processes on a regular basis to see if there is any room for improvement or to see if the process itself is still a viable option since time has passed and the business has grown or changed in some way.
Here’s some controversy for you! Read almost any article on streamlining and it will tell you to stop having so many meetings or dismiss people from a meeting once they’re no longer pertinent to it. My experience is the exact opposite, if your are not getting value from your meetings then you either haven’t structured them correctly or you have a staffing issue. Don’t get me wrong though, there are plenty of meetings that could be cut or consolidated into more general meetings to save time and you’d be surprised by how often having someone deemed fairly irrelevant to a meeting actually turns out to be a great asset to it.
The reason is fairly straight forward, sometimes you just can’t see the woods for the trees, having all the information is obviously important, but too often it hinders our judgement, we can’t see thebigger picture because we are focussed too much on the details. Somebody who knows nothing about a process, but is presented with a problem to solve, is often able to see the obvious much easier as they don’t have to navigate the details. Sure not all suggestions are going to work and that’s because they don’t know all the details, but I can’t even count the times when someone has suggested a solution that is not viable, but in presenting it, it has cleared the fog for someone in the know to have that eureka moment.
Here is a slightly off topic example, but it shows the same principle. One of our many happy customers, PieholeTV, create really cool explainer videos for companies. Now I could spend several hours talking to someone about all the features of Procurementexpress.com and how much benefit you’d get from them, an explainer video, as I am told, should be short and to the point, no longer than 2 minutes. So how do I, as a knowledgeable person, condense all the information I have into just 2 minutes? How do I prioritize what features should be there and what shouldn’t, after all some features are more useful than others and the usefulness isn’t decided by myself but by the individual with an obstacle to overcome, it’s not possible for me to know who the majority of my viewing audience would be either, so I may well focus on the things I think most people would need and completely neglect to mention things that people really want.
What PieholeTV do is they write the script blind first. I’m not talking about locking scriptwriters in a dark room for a day here, what they do is write a 2 minute script without being fully briefed by the client. The client can then say they like this and hate that or often that it is perfect the way it is, if not then they do a brief and a rewrite. It’s actually quite genius really as it often unveils the core elements needed to be communicated without drowning in a sea of information. Anyway, back to the point, I just wanted to illustrate how not seeing the woods for the trees is often an obstacle and consulting someone who only knows about the woods is often a great idea.
In most businesses there is already collective wisdom on how to improve the workflow, but it is almost impossible for any one person to make a change in a work process without the opinions and involvement of other employees and managers. When processes are created or improved upon and the tasks fall solely on management/senior staff, you simply are not going to achieve the best results, sure the process is more than likely to do the job, but is it efficient and is it as streamlined as it should be?
Lets use purchase orders as an example here. Company X has been going for 5 years now and things are looking great, they want to know more about the spend in the company so they decide to create a process where people have to create requisitions and have them approved by the appropriate person, this will put a control on spend and ensure things are going through the correct channels. When the department managers get together they decide that the simplest way for this to happen would be to have each manager responsible for different aspects of the spending in the company and that people can simply bring them a requisition and have it signed off, nice and simple, paper work turns up, have a quick look, sign it off and job done. Problem is it is only a view from a single vantage point. The reality is that the employee has to do much more to get the job done, find the requisition form, fill it in, locate the person who needs to sign it off, take the purchase order to the appropriate person to get it processed, then it needs to be stored and found whenever more information needs to be linked to it.
This is why automating processes is so important, the idea isn’t to remove the need for human involvement, it’s to alleviate the time and effort involved in getting things done. You will always need the human element, human interaction will always yield information computers/software just can’t do, what they can do is speed things up exponentially and reduce errors as well as making things like reporting/tracking information a breeze. Technology is crucial, but useless without the human element in nearly all cases.
So how do we streamline a process?
Identify a single work process. This should be a finite, repetitive procedure with a specific beginning, middle and end. Look at the process itself, be careful not to be looking at goals, “Improve the speed of accounts payable” is not a process it is a goal. Try to look solely at the process itself to see where steps could be improved or omitted altogether if possible.
Break the process down into as many individual steps as possible, the more granular, the better. As I mentioned already, management will only know so much about the process so be sure to get your information from all employee levels.
Request input from anyone with any involvement in the existing process, directly or indirectly. This is how you establish the main time/effort saving areas. As with the aforementioned example, to one person the process is simple, they just sign a piece of paper and don’t give it a second thought, the people who ferry that paper about will have a much greater insight into how that paper can move through the process more efficiently.
Implement work flow improvements, starting with the obvious, things like improved human resource management, computerized automation or even omitting a step entirely that was required when the original solution was devised, but now not so much or not at all due to the information being available elsewhere through the changes made in the improvements or even changes made elsewhere that now cater for that original need. You’d be surprised by how much data is logged and stored multiple times in different departments.
Repeat the process starting with Step 1 for each process you want to perfect. Ask your employees for their own suggestions. Even if you end up unable to make a workflow move any faster, you do your best to remove anything tedious/mind numbing or unnecessarily difficult with something easier and more engaging, happiness and job satisfaction are the 2 main ingredients for lubricating any workflow processes.