How to get well on your way to powerful processes
You probably know that a business process is a chain of activities that are repeated. You, as others, may see visions of documentation and bureaucracy that gets in the way of employees rather than helping them.
Unfortunately, this is the reality in many places. But this article will show you that it doesn’t need to be that way.
Over seven years, Gluu has helped a considerable number of companies all over the world to succeed with business processes. In this article, you’ll get our very condensed recipe for getting processes well integrated into your business.
First, we need to talk about where the processes are, and which activities are appropriately treated as processes. Next, I want to share where we typically see things go wrong. Finally, I will give you the seven steps that have worked for a lot of people, and which will get you off to a good start.
What is a business process anyway?
There are many opinions about this. We follow the current international consensus and view a business process as…
”A chain of documented activities that are repeated by various employees.”
Many confuse projects and processes. After all, a project is a chain of activities performed by various people as well.
So, what’s the difference?
According to Project Management Institute, a project is “a unique work activity to produce a unique output.” Meaning, it is something that happens once.
In other words, we treat many tasks as projects, when we might be better of seeing them as processes. This is the key to success: Are most work activities completely unique (projects), or are they something that is repeated, where we can learn from each time we do it (processes)?
By viewing repeated activities as one-time activities, we miss out on the opportunity to learn and repeat the activity each time we do it.
As said by one of the fathers of the huge increase in industrial productivity over the past 50-60 years:
“If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, then you don't know what you're doing.”- Edward Deming
Which means that “I have the processes in my mind” doesn’t hold water.
Those minds belong to people who go home every night. So, what is left in the business?
The processes. Where are they?
Roughly, you can divide the work in your company into the following chunks:
- “Ad hoc” work, which each employee does in a new way every time. This is very time-consuming and results in a lot of errors.
- “Projects,” where a more controlled development task is done within a clear framework. Afterwards, an evaluation is made as to whether the results should be integrated into the operations.
- “Processes” – chains of repeated and well-documented activities where the employee knows his or her role, and therefore his or her responsibility to others.
- “Automatization” and “Outsourcing” - mature and stable processes you know completely and can choose to outsource or automate.
Like a “sales funnel” the work activities in your “work funnel” should flow through this funnel. The greater the share of ad hoc work and projects that are not anchored, the less productive is the company in question.
You find the processes by looking at the work tasks from this perspective and asking yourselves:
- Does the task occur very rarely, and is nothing repeated from one time to the next? In that case, it is ad hoc.
- Are we getting into something larger, which is completely unique, and which we will not be doing again? Then it’s a project – which we should approach with a project mindset.
- Is the task something we do repeatedly? Then it is an activity that should be documented. Does it involve several employees? Then it is a process – a chain of activities performed by various roles.
Here, you will always want to start with those activities that cause the most problems and take the most time. This could be anything from IT security to onboarding new customers.
What do you do after finding the processes?
Once the activities are divided up and you have identified the important processes, you will start the real work – first to describe how they are done today, and then ensuring that this is actually how it takes place in reality.
This is when you need to choose a road that leads to good conversations, a-ha moments, and improvements. In order for this to happen, you need to avoid the typical errors.
The typical mistakes on the road to powerful processes
Small and medium-sized companies (from 50-500 employees) often make the following mistakes when working with processes:
- Top management is not participating and does not see this as critical to business (yes, incredibly this is not unusual in the year 2019). The result is that the initiative is not accepted by middle management, and no time is spent on it.
- Coworkers are not participating and do not consider this part of their job. No involvement, no success, since nobody can be bothered to follow “other people’ processes” – especially if it means going out of your way when doing the work.
- Unclear process ownership. Process owners are invisible and are hiding somewhere where they are not utilized actively. This way, reality quickly separates from the process, which will automatically become irrelevant and misleading.
- No “process architecture”. Processes are defined ad hoc and there is no comprehensive structure that has been approved by top management, and which supports the strategy and business model. This way, you get too many processes that are described in different ways, creating more confusion than clarity.
- No integration and automatization. Mature, stable processes must be systematized and If this doesn’t happen, you miss important opportunities to digitize operations, save time, and avoid errors.
- No integrated process platform. You can keep a few processes alive with Visio and e-mail, but beyond that, keeping up with what the employees need to learn, and the processes start to “fade”. Technological underpinning is necessary to keep everything synchronized and communicated.
- No ongoing follow-up (and on-going improvements). How you say you work (the processes) needs to mirror how you actually work (practice). Without regular follow-up and frequent changes, the two will drift apart, and again, your processes will fade.
- Hooking up task management and check lists. Employees will follow processes they find time-saving and meaningful. Hooking up task management also enables more people working “in the process” without getting a sense of having to “follow the process”. Thus, the reason why the process is done – ”the why” – is hooked up with the actual measure of it happening in practice – ”the how”. This increases compliance.
- Poor work instructions. If everything else is in place, but your employee doesn’t know what to do, the process will not be performed after all. Process diagrams cannot be carried out in practice, unless they have good, standardized work instructions that are available in the right format and at the right time and place.
Evaluate your own maturity!
At GLUU, we have a simple maturity analysis that is based in the nine areas outlined above. Normally, we use it to help our clients move to the next level. Now we are making it public, so you can evaluate for yourself where you stand in your company :
The seven steps on the road to powerful processes
Now, you are probably thinking that your company should consider way more activities to be processes, and that this might be the way to a better bottom line. You have also seen the mistakes of others, and you think you can avoid making the same ones .
You can do everything using Visio, Word, and e-mail for a few processes, but in reality it is almost impossible to keep any larger number of processes, work instructions, tasks and roles, and employees updated and relevant. Consider the fact that you may have hundreds of processes that need to be updated regularly by the right person. This must then be communicated to the exact right employee. The employees must also perform certain tasks at the right time, and they must be registered correctly. On this basis, we developed the Gluu platform to eliminate friction in working with processes. In Gluu, the employees themselves can understand, carry out, and improve every process – with proper control and management at a higher level.
This is why a process platform is the first step on the road to powerful processes:
These seven steps are linked to chapters in our suggestion for a process improvement plan, which you can feel free to copy, modify, and use for your own initiative.
We’ll do it later…
Many are too busy putting out fires and working ad hoc to look at “root causes” for why they work the way they do. They realize that they should “take charge of the processes” at some point, but the time to do it is never right now. So, isn’t this just a theoretical exercise for those who have time?
No. You reap the fruits in form of faster onboarding, less risk when key employees leave, more time for development (due to less ad hoc work), fewer errors, and better compliance with requirements for personal data, security, and the environment.
The sooner you get started, the sooner you will benefit.