With businesses embracing digital transformation and adopting modern technologies to stay ahead of the competition, the idea to streamline business processes isn’t a novel one. Thoughtful implementation in a real business environment can help companies maximize productivity without cutting corners.
Streamlining a business process can make both employees and customers happier by removing redundant activities so organizational goals can be reached more quickly.
Before we dive right into the steps needed to streamline business processes – you may be wondering what streamlining means, so let’s cover some ground first!
What Is Streamlining A Process?
In simple words, streamlining is the process of simplifying business operations so that inefficient processes can be optimized.
As Dr. W. Edwards Deming says, a process can only move as fast as its slowest step. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that inefficient processes are indeed the bottleneck in any organization and improving them can significantly improve overall productivity!
There may be many unnecessary steps in a company that may be leading to a waste of time and resources. Chores like handling invoices, data entry, and employee onboarding are, though essential – repetitive tasks and can be easily automated. Streamlined business processes help to eliminate unnecessary work-related tasks and improve efficiency and productivity.
The preliminary step behind streamlining the entire business process is to assess current processes to identify bottlenecks, diagnose outdated processes, and determine what processes can be automated. The actual implementation of more efficient workflow procedures often involves a mix of task simplification, removing mundane tasks, workflow automation, and management solutions – and the best part is- it’s pretty easy to continuously streamline business processes once you get started!
Benefits Of Streamlining Processes And Workflows
Business processes and workflows are closely related- but the two terms mean different things. While a process constitutes smaller steps to reach an organizational goal, a workflow is big-picture and consists of several processes and cross-functional interactions between staff with different roles and responsibilities.
Streamlined processes are ideal for improving operational efficiency and producing predictable outcomes so determining the variables that are affecting your business goals isn’t entirely guesswork. Not only does streamlining help break down complex steps into smaller manageable steps, but it also helps improve productivity, teamwork, and customer experience.
Some key benefits of streamlining internal processes for an organization are as follows:
1. Increased Productivity and Cost-Efficiency
Studies suggest that employees spend as much as a third of their time doing unproductive tasks like data entry, responding to requests, training new hires, and doing admin work. By streamlining processes in the current workflow, the workplace environment can focus on more productive tasks.
The time spent by the employees of an organization in repetitive day-to-day operations is directly tied to employee scheduling and workflow functions. The freed-up resources can be utilized in more productive activities like focusing on immediate priorities or setting new goals.
Ideally, every process in a business needs to be adding value. Streamlining does a fine job of diagnosing steps that aren’t producing value; by removing these process steps, operating costs can be reduced. Taking appropriate steps to streamline business processes can help improve customer retention and employee retention – both of which directly contribute to reducing costs, and the former directly brings in more revenue!
Since acquiring new customers is at least five times more expensive than retaining existing ones and hiring new employees can cost as much as 200 % of the past employee’s salary, it certainly makes sense to invest in customer and employee retention.
2. Better Coordination
Having clear roles for employees can help them function without misunderstandings and even if an edge case arises, a properly planned process will be flexible enough to allow real-time coordination and teamwork to solve the issue.
Having effective processes in place to get rid of repeatable tasks can lead to maximum efficiency and reduce the possibility of errors that would have otherwise occurred due to duplicate processes. The use of process management software can also assist in keeping track of ongoing processes, immediate priorities, and deadlines.
3. Predictable Outcomes Lead To Better Planning
In the absence of streamlined operations, things like invoice approvals, timesheet approvals, and standard operating procedures can introduce unexpected variables into the process flow. Streamlining helps improve these inefficiencies and optimize workflow procedures so better strategies can be created to reach organizational goals.
Let’s assume a company hires three people per month. Since the employees have different backgrounds, this can cause delays in onboarding if there’s no standard process in place. Having a streamlined onboarding process can help gather process-specific data, prevent unfair treatment, and help formulate more effective approaches to prepare new employees for their jobs more efficiently.
4. Compliance and Risk Mitigation
As simpler processes are easier to understand and carry out, there are fewer chances of accidental breaches of regulations. Since streamlining ensures that employees know exactly what they are supposed to do, there will be no compliance issues as long as they are committed to their responsibilities.
Where there is a human element, there is always a chance for errors. By simplifying complex steps into simpler steps, delegating risk assessment and management to qualified personnel, and accounting for probable human errors, losses to the company can be effectively prevented. Freed-up time can also be utilized in allocating buffer time and can help avoid cutting corners on important aspects of a process.
Streamlining also involves process modeling and mapping workflow tasks so Key Performance Indicators (KPI) like client retention rate and revenue per client can easily be measured and utilized to manage risk.
5. Better Customer Relations
Since the organization will be able to free up its time and resources from mundane tasks, it can cater to the customers’ needs and focus on improving customer engagement and satisfaction.
Keeping customers as the main focus of an organization is an essential consideration when trying to streamline business processes- and luckily, streamlining helps the customers as much as the organization if not more.
Streamlining processes has the effect of enhancing efficiency, and this can significantly reduce delivery times. A shorter waiting time also means happy customers!
What Is the Best Way To Streamline Processes?
How processes are streamlined can depend on a lot of factors like what the hierarchy of the organization looks like, the niche, clientele, organizational goals, and the management team. Some pointers to help you streamline business processes for achieving organizational goals with maximum efficiency are as follows:
Before adopting any approaches, it’s necessary to understand the existing processes in an organization so bottlenecks can be diagnosed. This can be done through the help of process mapping techniques to create process maps like flowcharts and workflow diagrams.
One major benefit to mapping key business processes in an organization is that responsible parties and important deadlines can be clearly observed and bottlenecks (if any) can be easily identified. Business process modeling (process discovery paired with mapping and simulation) can also help achieve reliable measures to benchmark existing processes.
It’s hard to streamline business processes without knowing what needs to be changed. Investing some time to learn about the existing processes can not only result in less scope for errors but also help identify issues that may not be apparent at the top level.
Involve Responsible Parties
Whether you’re making a change to the management or the financial processes, it helps to have the stakeholders on your side. Letting the concerned parties know about your strategy can help make your experience easier and smoother.
Sometimes, it can be hard to address underlying issues without practical insights. In this regard, consulting with the employees and customers for feedback can be very helpful to gather information about bottlenecks in certain processes and ultimately help streamline business processes smoothly.
Prioritize Outcomes Over Technology
4 out of 5 leaders agree that automation can increase employee satisfaction and make the company more productive, it might be tempting to adopt new technologies hoping that this will automatically improve productivity, make employees happier, and simultaneously increase revenue. However, poorly implemented processes can be even less efficient than “as-is” processes.
At the heart of any organization are its employees- and if there is friction while the employees are adopting new technologies, it can lead to a lack of trust and hostility toward the management. It is necessary to predict how proposed changes can affect team dynamics and if automation is embraced, this can lead to some roles being reconsidered.
Estimating the ROI on a proposed solution is vital before implementation as it helps assess the feasibility of the suggested change and allows the company to see the big picture for making an informed decision.
Project Leaders and Executive Buy-In
When you’re trying to implement changes in the workflow of an organization, stakeholders might not be convinced by your pitch. For this reason, it’s better to have executive buy-in to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Project leaders who are supposed to take on strategic roles should also be briefed about their responsibilities and actively communicate the responsibilities of each staff are. If the leaders possessing managerial positions aren’t clear about what’s expected from other employees, lower-tier employees can assume that the strategies of the organization are only for the higher-ups and fail to assume their duties and responsibilities.
Ensuring that all employees take an active role in optimizing business processes can be very helpful when you’re trying to streamline business processes.
Consider The Cost-Benefit Ratio
Automation and business process improvement are all the hype today, but you should take some time to consider if streamlining is worth the time and effort. Once you have a list of processes that are going on inside the organization, you can check for unnecessary tasks and weigh the costs of streamlining against doing nothing.
The need for cost-benefit analysis is – streamlining can involve major changes like business process management software, task notification automation, cloud-based software, supply chain management techniques, additional training for employees, and consulting fees, and the costs can easily rack up. A proper cost-benefit assessment and a long-term projection can help you decide whether or not you need to streamline existing business processes.
How To Streamline Business Processes
Provided the numerous benefits of streamlining business processes, carefully implemented processes can produce positive results in the productivity and efficiency of an organization.
These are the primary steps to streamline business processes:
Business Process Modeling
Tackling a problem becomes easier if the exact problem is known – to this measure, identifying problem areas in the business workflow can help pinpoint and avoid steps that are subtracting value from the organization.
Process maps can be made with the help of online modeling software or by mapping individual processes in a flowchart. Ideally, each process should be adding value and its inputs and outputs easy to understand.
Often, the processes are complex and chaotic and it helps to break them down into smaller and more manageable tasks. Tedious tasks like paperwork, employee interviews, organizing team meetings, and handling billing can easily be a bottleneck, especially if they are repetitive, and automating them would solve most of the issues with internal productivity and help streamline business processes with ease.
Optimize Inefficient Processes
The key to optimizing inefficient processes is simplicity – simple processes are not only easier to understand for the employees but also harder to mess up. Automation paired with integrated process management software can easily make processes more efficient and free up valuable resources so they can be utilized on more productive tasks.
Once unnecessary steps are identified, it’s easier to deal with them. It could be something as simple as assigning somebody else for the problematic task (human or bot) or designing more efficient processes. Dependency decoupling is also important – and can provide employees with both the authority and flexibility they need to swiftly solve problems.
Ultimately, it’s necessary to remember that the goal of business processes is to achieve organizational goals. Setting SMART (Smart, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) goals leads to processes that can be easily measured and optimized for the employees. This also helps generate baseline information and obtain valuable metrics for assessing performance in the future.
Communicate To Stakeholders Properly
Even if you have formulated the best plan to streamline business processes, it will inevitably fail if you haven’t properly communicated the ideas to your stakeholders. These include the management, staff, and of course – the customers!
Project managers need to break down the plan into simpler steps and help the employees clearly understand their responsibilities. As the overall process requires a team effort, investing in staff training, team meetings, gaining support from management, and asking customers for feedback should be considered to streamline business processes optimally.
One area where businesses can focus more is – employees. Not only do customers know the existing processes inside-out, but in most cases, they also have valuable insights that the managerial team may lack.
Embrace Continuous Integration
You’ve done your due diligence and past the implementation phase- things are looking great, but wait there’s one more step. You need to start over again!
Continuous integration and studying existing processes to formulate more efficient processes is a never-ending process, and it can lead to significant improvements within the business. One important thing to consider is that making strategies is much easier than implementing them.
Employees become comfortable with what they have been doing, and introducing a new approach can lead to friction and resistance. To address this, necessary changes have to be incorporated slowly according to the feedback received and see what works and what doesn’t. The employees also need to feel like they were a part of the decision.
Regardless of the outcome, continuous monitoring can provide reliable metrics for understanding the impact of the decision to streamline business processes on organizational outcomes and help upcoming projects.
Streamlining processes is a crucial aspect of business operations that can not only identify problem areas but also helps to utilize resources more efficiently. Diagnosing inefficient steps with techniques like process maps can also help enhance productivity and improve customer satisfaction and retention rates.
Businesses can streamline their current processes by breaking down larger complex steps into a series of simpler steps. Simplicity in operations is not only better for reducing employee stress and avoiding communication problems but also makes the workflow more productive. Techniques like automating repetitive tasks, adopting new technologies, dependency decoupling, and continuous monitoring can be used to streamline business processes to help achieve business goals more quickly.
However, it is also important to assess the need for streamlining as the costs associated with improving existing processes can sometimes outweigh the benefits.