Processes are the neural pathways of the brain that is your business. From how you call Clients to counting money, we engage dozens of processes a day… and we never think about them. How many processes happen in your business that you don’t understand or are even aware of? They drive your company and you don’t have the keys.
Process Improvement is about making small, sustained changes to daily details. But that’s a non-starter if we can’t visualize the details.
Here’s how to take control of your processes and start saving some money:
Processes make you Flexible:
How many people in your company manage/ control processes that you don’t fully know? For most companies, it’s a fair number. Now what happens if that person has an accident, goes on maternity leave, or simply quits?
Work with your staff to document their processes. Start with simple, daily processes and go deeper from there. The goal: that if something happens to them, someone else can learn the processes within 1 day. If the process only exist in someone’s head, you’re starting from scratch.
Keep your Processes Efficient:
We think of processes as purely functional, but the truth is that they’re highly personal. People develop and mould them to fit their preferences, even if that’s not most efficient.
It’s your company. You want to empower the people in your company, but you also need to ensure that the processes they’re developing are not:
- So personally crafted that they take more time than they should
- Creating silos and inhibiting interdepartmental cooperation
- So mysterious that someone else can’t learn them within a day
How to Document:
First off, forget Value Mapping. This isn’t about creating vast spreadsheets of complex supply chains. Get a bunch of multi-coloured sticky notes, a fistful of sharpies, and a room that will stay empty for a few days.
Make it collaborative: get all the involved stakeholders into the room with you. Have coffee and fruit and make it lighthearted. They may be thinking that you’re wanting to document what they do in preparation for firing them: address that paranoia head on. It’s about efficiency.
Start simple. Aim to document 3 common, fairly simple tasks in a couple hours (after that no one is thinking straight). Everyone picks a colour of sticky note to represent them. Start with the big steps involved in process and stick them up as headers. Below them you can get into the details. Every step, no matter how small, gets a sticky note of the colour of the person doing it. If there’s 2 people in a step, make 2 steps.
Get as granular as you can and fill up the board. If you do it right, you’ll be amazed at how many steps are involved in the simplest process. Assemble them all before saying anything. Then turn to your people and ask them: “so how can we simplify this?” Then shut up, stand back, listen and let the magic happen.
Integrate into Process Improvement:
An exercise like this should be monthly at most. Improving the bottom line is about making incremental changes that are sustainable over the long term. Only have another session once you’re confident that the lessons of the first have become habit.
Keep the stickies up. This is an organic process, and stakeholders can go in at will to look, learn, and hopefully make even leaner. After about a week, document the strategies into a shared spreadsheet, with accountable names attached to every task. Better yet, put them on a central board in the middle of the office.
I’d go about a month between sessions. If you rush, you’ll fail; that’s the essence of Process Improvement. It might take a year or more to document your business’s most basic processes, but the change in morale, the bottom line, and your piece of mind will be real.