Your business’ profitability is driven by your work. In turn, this work is driven by processes—a series of steps or actions your team takes to achieve results. This makes continuous improvement of these processes critical. If you constantly aim to deliver your products or services faster, at higher quality, you’ll see a similar increase in your profitability.
Even minor improvements to the way a common task is carried out can have a big impact. Consider the number of times the step is repeated or each time the process it is part of is implemented. Even a few seconds eliminated—such as a quicker way to deal with common email inquiries—can add up to huge gains in overall efficiency. High-frequency tasks with minor improvements will have dramatic increases.
Your process improvement journey does not need to be complicated or time-consuming. These ten steps will help you discover, develop, define and re-define what drives your output.
Step 1: Determine the process to focus on
If you’re just starting out, pick a process that bothers you (for example, expense reporting). You’ll be ready to make the change. If you are further down the path of continuous process improvement, identify particular processes that constantly create bottlenecks or take too long to complete. Alternatively, focus on any areas you think are good, but would make a big impact if they could be done better—such as customer onboarding.
Step 2: Discuss the existing process as a team
Put together a small cross-functional team of people who are involved in the existing process. Conduct a one-hour session walking through the existing process today, learning what works and what doesn’t, and understanding how each person uses the process differently. At this point, you want to get a baseline understanding of what is happening. In addition, this is also the start of the change management journey, so you want the group to be involved from the start.
Step 3: Agree on what success will be & the measure
All projects need to have well-defined performance metrics to determine progress and ultimately success. Define what success will look like (e.g. process time reduction or quality improvement). Document and obtain team agreement prior to moving on.
Step 4: Map out the “as-is” process (& variants)
With the details from the previous team meeting on what the process is today, begin to map out the process using paper/pen, sticky notes, or a program. Note the variants that different team members use within the process. If the process is expense reporting: does one person hand in physical receipts and someone else just photos of their receipts? Those variants will lead to the innovation that will improve the process. As needed, meet with individual team members to better understand parts of the process, or to validate the process documented is a proper articulation of how it operates today.
Step 5: Discuss variants and why they exist
Meet again as a team to discuss the mapped out process, the variants that exist and why they exist. Brainstorm as a group on how the sub-processes should be in the future to leverage the variants or be done differently to be more efficient.
Step 6: Review all steps for inefficiencies
As a group, go step-by-step through the current process and proposed changes to determine which steps can be refined, simplified or eliminated. Challenge each step, even if “it has always done been done this way”
Step 7: Create a “to-be” process with a sub-team
From the various discussions and lessons learned, collaborate to build the ideal new process with the team. After putting together the process, walk through it step-by-step to ensure nothing has been forgotten and sections aren’t disjointed. Get agreement from the team that this will be the new process to test once ready.
Step 8: Test the process and refine based on lessons learned
Assign a person from the team to be the process tester and try the process out either on a simulated client or a new client. If possible, have another team member observe how the process is completed to capture notes, track time per step and ask questions of the tester along the way. At this point, the team is learning if the process works as described or if it requires some additional tuning.
The test team reconvenes with the project team to walk through what happened, what was noted and what was learned. Depending on the results against the success measures, major or minor refinements will be needed. Make the necessary changes to the process and either re-do the test phase or move on to moving the process into production.
Step 9: Train the team on the new & improved process
Meet with the broader team to walk through the process both in design and in practice. Do this as a collective project team to manage the change and answer the various questions from the cross-functional audience.
Step 10: Use the process for various client work
After the meeting, move the process into full production and ensure people are using the new process going forward.
Be sure to continue to monitor and measure the process as you move forward. Have team members track and recommend improvements as they work through the process day in and day out. Process improvement isn’t static, it is continuous.
The number-one contributor to a more efficient and profitable business is constant process improvement. You need to explore every option to speed up the way every little task or job is executed. And never stop exploring and refining.