Many startups approach bottleneck problems with a “bandage now, solution later” mentality. They scramble to end a crisis and promise to come up with a long-term solution down the road. This is how we end up with repeat errors and dead ends whenever someone asks about protocol.
This strategy is also found in larger corporations that haven’t completely adapted to the digital world. Whether you’re evaluating them for the first time or need to streamline clunky processes, listen to what the experts have to say on streamlining your departments.
Start By Evaluating Your Business Processes
The first step in revising your processes is evaluation. You want to identify what tasks are time-consuming, and where unprofitable time is spent.
Build Out BPMs and Workflow Models
Laura Brandenburg, CBAP, created an excellent resource to develop a business process model (BPM) for her company, Bridging the Gap. She explains what should be included, who should be involved, and what level of business to work with.
However, she also admits not everyone needs this kind of depth. “Most business analysts still use simple workflow diagrams to visually model their business processes,” Brandenburg says. “Simpler models communicate the same information but tend to be easier for our stakeholders to understand and provide feedback on.”
These workflow models are a good starting point if this is your first time reviewing internal processes.
Find the 7 Wastes Within Your Business
When you have your processes laid out, it’s time to eliminate waste. Many business analysts look for TIM WOOD when they’re searching for ways to optimize their process flow:
- Waiting & Delays
Tony Ferraro of LEAN and Safety at Creative Safety Supply says reducing each of the seven wastes requires three steps itself: “First, understand the current state. Next, develop a precise idea of the state you want to be in (desired state). Finally, develop an action plan that will take you from the current state to the desired state.”
As you start to evaluate your workflow, keep an eye out for TIM WOOD and how to eliminate him.
Set Goals and Timelines for Improving these Processes
Professionals will treat business improvements like any other project. There will be deadlines, checkpoints and KPIs to make sure the improved process is actually helping the company.
Duncan Haughey, writing for Project Smart News, explains how the 80/20 rule applies to project management. “Of the activities you do during your project, only 20 percent are important,” he says. “Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results. Identify and focus on those activities.”
As you start to review your processes, sort your changes into three categories: necessary for major improvements, optional changes and vanity improvements. This will help you prioritize change.
Look at Your People and Understand How They Work
If your processes aren’t failing, then your people might be. Richard Lannon, author and radio host of SET for Success, has identified four ways companies become inefficient:
- Lack of clarity or vision on behalf of the business
- Poor incentive and performance evaluation structure
- Poorly implemented initiatives
- Micromanagers stifling decisions
In many cases, the business process can be improved in two ways: managers getting out of the way, and employees accessing the right tools and motivation.
When in doubt, go to your people and ask them what their pain points are. In an article for Quickbase, Alison Green of Ask a Manager explains that communication often leads to the root of the problem.
“You might get additional insight into what’s causing it that you wouldn’t have known on your own,” Green says. “For instance, you might learn that Jane needs to sign off on work before it comes to you but she’s often not available or doesn’t move quickly enough.” Instead of blaming one employee for always being late, you understand why she can’t complete the project on time.
Understanding internal flow is especially important across multiple departments. If one department seems to be lagging, it could be the result of another department not offering help or doing its job.
Peter Stark, CSP, is a leadership and workplace expert who offers communication advice. He emphasizes the importance of getting multiple departments on the same page — even if it’s only for a 10-minute weekly meeting.
“We can guarantee that team members are going to say, ‘We are too busy to meet this week,'” he writes. “Don’t fall for this trick. Remember, dysfunctional teams will do anything humanly possible not to meet.”
Yes, your internal processes may need to be fixed, but the best processes in the world will crumble under poor employees, bad managers and dysfunctional teams.
Identify What Can Be Automated
In an article for WPCurve, Kyle Gray writes that he believes almost anything can be automated — even if you’re just setting a monthly reminder so the human doesn’t have to remember to complete the task.
“If you can keep the level of quality the same, then you should always automate ahead of delegation,” he says. “Software is more affordable and predictable than manpower.” In short, why are you hiring someone to do the job of a robot? Also, why are you risking human error?
The most important reason to automate your processes is to save time. By reducing the time and brainpower your staff spends on menial tasks, you free them up to actually grow your business and strategize in ways algorithms can’t.
Meredith Wood created a list at Fundbox of common business functions that can (and should) be automated. “When properly implemented, it allows you to achieve the desired results without manual input, meaning you create more time for yourself to focus on revenue-generating functions,” Wood says.
However, automation only works if your business is committed to it, and companies that chase shiny options might find themselves stuck. Dougles Chan, a strategic digital marketing guru, explains why businesses fail at implementing automation:
“Staff and management understand what the tool can do, are excited by its capabilities, know how to operate it but have lack the strategic knowledge on how to best apply the functionality of the tool in their particular industry or environment.”
Essentially, automation fails because of human limitations.
Standardize Communication and Onboarding
There are countless opportunities to communicate in the workplace, which actually leads to miscommunication. Employees will frantically search their email messages for an answer that was sent via text or Skype.
CMSWire reports on a survey by RingCentral that found 85% of employees rely on multiple devices to do their work, and 44% want wider adoption of internal communication tools. One of the fastest ways to improve internal processes is to streamline communication to one format.
Along with unifying communication, standardized onboarding and tracking can keep everyone on track and provide a concrete base for determining project completion.
In an article for RedBooth, Karen Sergeant explains how a unified onboarding process can increase the odds of project success and reduce bottlenecks. “I’ve seen client intake meetings galvanize businesses,” she writes. “More than just creating a coherent intake system, this process sparks deep empathy for the client experience and often leads to enhancements that weren’t on the radar before.”
Sergeant recommends getting everyone in the room for the first meeting, no matter how challenging scheduling can be, to ensure everyone knows what tasks they will be assigned and when. Even if the project is internal, treating it with the same respect as an external client or customer can increase the odds that it’s finished successfully.
Gideon Kimbrell, founder of InList, highlights the importance of strong processes in your team to make sure it’s pushed to completion. “If you don’t reach your goals, it doesn’t matter how inspirational you were or how many meetings you had,” Kimbrell says. “The only thing that matters in the end is the result.”
Create Contingency Plans in Advance
Since you’re already retooling your processes, now is the time to revise your contingency plans. For every process you update, evaluate potential crises and opportunities to fix them.
Prepare for the Worst
Timothy Dimoff, founder of SACs Consulting and Investigating, created a perfect definition of a contingency plan:
“A contingency is anything that happens outside the range of normal operations that can affect the company’s ability to operate. Contingency planning is about being prepared for these incidents and having a policy in place to keep you and your employees safe.”
Brainstorm a list of ways a project could get held up, and assign tasks to get the situation under control. This way, if one department is held up everyone knows how to react.
Evaluate Your Timelines
One of the biggest challenges within a company is scope creep. A project that should take two months sometimes takes six, which creates a bottleneck around everything else that happens in the company.
During the revision process, look for opportunities to extend your timelines. This may involve changing company guidelines when accepting client deadlines.
Dipti Parmar has found that many young companies try to accommodate clients as much as possible, which puts tremendous strain on resources and internal processes. “To keep clients happy, project managers often end up promising an overly optimized timeline for a project that even they know would normally take more time than what has been promised.”
Now is the time to pad your processes so you can accommodate your customers without overworking your team.
Seek Advice From Others
NetGuru has an infographic for project management in IT departments, and feedback is right at the top of it. Along with reviewing goals and project specifications, NetGuru recommends seeking advice from other departments and specialties. Even if you think you’re prepared to launch a project, a third party can point out gaps in your logic.
There are three traditional causes for bottlenecks: poor management, miscommunication and human error. Revising your internal processes requires the business to look at all three of these. Very rarely do systems break by themselves; it’s the people who break them. Implementing these steps can go a long way toward waste reduction and better customer relationships.