Keep it stupid, simple …
As long time business owners my partners and I learned early on that three things are needed to start up a business – infrastructure, human resources and customers. Without capital it’s next to impossible to break into many market areas, and without human resources it’s next to impossible to develop momentum in whatever market areas you decide to focus on. Without customers you soon run out of capital.
It’s interesting that the requirements for running a business are exactly the same, in reverse order. For many businesses customers are the single most important source of revenue, without human resources it becomes difficult to retain customers and infrastructure, of course, decays over time and must be periodically revitalized.
The easy route (if indeed there is one) to success in business is to focus on increasing customer satisfaction. If you do this, and do it well, all other things being equal, you will pull ahead and stay ahead of the competition.
Whether you are manufacturing products or providing services, the backbone of your business is the processes that take inputs and generate outputs.
There are three types of processes – processes that contribute directly to increasing customer satisfaction; processes that are supportive of increased customer satisfaction, and processes that have no impact on customer satisfaction.
In the interest of efficiency it makes good sense to eliminate processes that have no impact on customer satisfaction. As for the rest, there are “good” processes and then there are “bad” processes. A reasonable strategy might appear to be to improve all of the bad processes before trying to improve the good processes. The problem is some of the bad processes may prove to be difficult to improve and it is not altogether impossible that making small improvements to several good processes could have a greater impact on efficiency than putting the same amount of time and money into one bad process.
I need to pause here on “time and money” because it’s generally unrealistic to expect improvements to be immediate or at little or no cost. Most organizations require an ROI to justify any major initiative and there is a definite problem abandoning projects in mid-course because this can mean that the objectives of the ROI will never be achieved. Two or three “early bailouts” can create serious negative consequences for a business.
The core issue becomes “How do I go about designing, improving and encouraging the use of efficient processes”?
First of all, if you have an operating business, you need to document your processes. Failure to document processes in an office/services environment means your employees are doing work the way they think is appropriate and this means your ‘best practice processes’ are not being consistently followed. Consistent good outcomes require consistent use of best practices.
Usually, the best way to document a process is graphically. If you do this at a high level it serves no purpose at an operational level. If your process is the least bit complex (multiple steps, interconnected in complex ways, with different skill requirements for performing different steps), a 10 foot x 10 foot process map also serves no purpose at an operational level.
What is needed is a way to carve up your graph into individual steps, and then use software to manage the resource allocation process, based on, of course, the sequencing of steps in the graph.
How exactly should this be done?
Well, “keep it stupid, simple” tells us that any complex mechanism you use to ‘guide’ the processing is going to fail, so how about a single computer screen with a to-list on the left and a traditional schedule on the right?
The schedule shows your fixed appointments for a day, the to-list shows ‘floating’ tasks that you can work on in between appointments.
Where in all of this do we find the efficiency that gives you a competitive advantage over your competition?
Firstly, availability of best practices with automated resource allocation ensures that staff no longer has to worry what the next step is in any process, when to perform the step, where (if different tasks must be performed at different locations), or how (instructions post automatically). Concerns over what forms need to be filled in to demonstrate completion of steps disappear (all required forms post automatically).
If your software system also builds an audit trail of work done, as soon as one staff member completes a process step, the next-in-line steps are immediately and automatically posted to the appropriate staff members. Handoff is automated because the audit trail shows precisely who did what, where, when and how.
If you think about it, with software interpreting your best practice process maps and guiding the processing, it becomes difficult to inadvertently skip tasks, perform tasks out of order, be late/too early, or fail to properly document tasks.
But, as we all know, no process map can accommodate all eventualities, so the entire Business Process Management methodology will fail if work is not kept flexible. How this is accomplished will be the subject of another post.