In business, you need to use resources as efficiently as possible. So you need to make sure that your processes are set up well.
And if this already wasn’t challenging, it becomes especially difficult if you run a remote team.
This blog post outlines a simple 5-step methodology to improve any process. And works well for remote teams!
Follow these five steps to improve your process efficiency
- Identify: Identify the processes that need improvement
- Analyze: Analyze the process, start by mapping the status quo
- Improve: Improve the weaknesses that you’ve found
- Document: Document the new solution and train your team
- Repeat: You need to constantly improve to stay ahead of the competition
Let’s look into these steps in more detail!
Identify the relevant process
You need to figure out which processes need improvement. You will naturally have a great sense of which processes these are. Then, you’ll need to prioritize which process to tackle first.
There are different ways to look at priority.
- Dollar value: How high is the impact on top or bottom line if the process doesn’t work well.
- Ripple effects: The process outcomes have an effect on many other processes in the company. You want to tackle the most upstream processes first.
- Pain for the team or yourself: Some processes are just bloody annoying. So fix them first for your mental sanity.
- Customer-facing: If your process doesn’t work well and affects your client experience, it’s a good candidate to tackle.
BUILD A BACKLOG
If there are multiple processes that need fixing sort them by priority. Use the criteria above and create a backlog of processes to improve in your task management system.
Analyze the existing processes
There is an unlimited number of more complex and sophisticated analysis methodologies. Think Six Sigma with DMAIC or Total Quality Management Approaches, and many more.
We have learned over the years that for smaller organizations, they’re often too complex. I stick here to what works for smaller organizations up to 100 employees, for both onsite or distributed teams.
MAP THE STATUS QUO
The first step is to get everyone on the table or on a call that is involved or affected by the business process. This is critical.
Use a simple swim lane diagram to map. We use Miro but any digital whiteboard or other graphic software will do. Each lane represents one of the people involved. Pro-tip: don’t write down people, but the roles they hold.
his way, you detach it from names in case multiple people are holding the same role.
Find out what triggers the process. When does the first person start in the process?
What do they do then? With what tool? Paper, Excel, Email, Slack, Asana, telephone? For each tool, choose a box with a different color.
Start mapping each step as a box, writing a short title of the task in the box. Ask “What happens next” and take your time to understand the details and also process variants.
Be as comprehensive as you can with mapping the process. Be patient and persistent enough to keep a high level of detail till the end.
COLLECT THE FLAWS AND SHORTCOMINGS
As you go through your process, the team will probably tell you many things that don’t work well. Listen for undertones.
Add what doesn’t work well from your perspective.
Also, pay attention to the seven types of wasteful behavior from the lean methodology. If you find one present excessively in one or more process steps, give them a red sticky note as well.
CLUSTER FINDINGS INTO MEANINGFUL GROUPS
Copy all the red sticky notes that you’ve placed over your process chart. Paste them on the same board and sort them by topic. Come up with 2-5 categories. They will usually be very obvious.
The goal of this exercise is to make the findings manageable.
Now that you have a collection of the items that need improvement, it’s time to go about improving them.
Pick the cluster that has the best impact/effort ratio.
STATE THE PROBLEMS CLEARLY
The first critical step is to be disciplined about the problem statement. Stating a problem clearly is the first step to finding a good solution.
A sloppy problem statement will inevitably lead to a sloppy solution.
To keep things simple, I recommend defining the following (simplified from B. Garrette et al: Cracked it!):
- What’s the trouble? What makes this problem present and real?
- Who is the owner?
- What will success look like?
PICK A STRUCTURED PATH TO THE SOLUTION
In process improvement, often a hypothesis-driven solution process works well. Because the team, or you, might already have clear ideas about how to solve the problem.
In order to challenge your thinking with regard to premature solutions, follow a structured process.
Break down your favored solution into sub-hypotheses that you then break down further as needed.
You need to be able to answer the hypotheses yourself or run quick experiments to test them.
You have insufficient data submission in your email-based order intake.
A mandatory order form on the website will force the clients to submit complete information.
- Your clients are equally likely to fill out a form than to send you an email
- Making fields mandatory that clients previously haven’t filled out does not drive them away.
- You can convert your repeat customers that have ordered via email for multiple years to switch
- You don’t produce more phone calls by eliminating emails
You get the point. Try to be honest and come up with as many drill down questions as you can. Either you can confidently answer them or you need to ask your clients, experiment etc.
For internal changes, these questions might be easier to answer.
Once you have confirmed a hypothesis, you can move on to implementation.
Implementation can be as simple as changing the order of two process steps and as complex as switching CRM systems or changing contract partners.
It depends on your solution.
In general, it’s advisable to iterate. Build only what you need to get started and then add or adapt as you learn.
Trying to build the perfect solution on the drawing board often results in too complex implementations.
Document and train your team on your new solution
Once you have an improved solution, you need to make sure your team knows about it.
If you don’t have a central wiki or information hub for your company, this is a great time to build one. A wiki will do many good things for you.
The immediate benefit is that you have a tool to show everyone in the company the improved new practices.
Assign ownership for the new piece of documentation, so it has a name attached to it. This will help people looking at it identify who to contact for follow-up questions. And the person responsible will know that they need to update and maintain it.
It is critical to train relevant team members on new practices. These trainings save a variety of purposes:
- Explain why a solution was designed the way it was.
- Train the team on how it works
- Provide a space for questions and insecurities about the improvement
- For you to collect feedback on the solution
The training needs to be as iterative as the change process itself. Don’t expect that people fully change year-long learned behavior after you held a one-hour training session.
Rather, combine a one-off training with regular slack support and frequent check-ins or office hours. This allows you to collect feedback when people are starting to use your new process.
After the process improvement is before the process improvement. Continue improving the next process. And also be prepared to reiterate on the improved process you just finalized. The only constant in business is change.
This is a great time to go back to your backlog from the identify step.
The ideal setup here would be to implement a continuous improvement process – and eventually convert that into a mindset within your organization.
Everyone feels responsible to collect, address and potentially tackle process issue themselves. Without a centrally steered effort.
You can get there with a disciplined continuous improvement process.