Running your business is complex. As it grows you have to add more employees, departments and partners to the mix. When you get to the office and see six new voicemails and a full inbox, your business starts to feel chaotic.
Luckily for you, there are ways to stay on top of the chaos. In this article of our series on 8 Ways to Innovate Your Business, we’re looking at ways to improve business processes.When growing your business, you have to look at how you do things as well as what you do in order to clarify the noise, use resources more effectively and get the best return for your investments. By identifying what needs to be improved and what needs to be scrapped completely, you clear the way for more innovation in your business.
Defining Business Process Optimization
Process optimization is about boosting efficiency by making tasks simpler, reducing redundant tasks and trimming wasteful activities. It streamlines your work, improves communication and frees up capacity for forecasting and innovation.Ask yourself the following four questions to see if you can do more with your business resources.
#1 Do you understand your value chain?
Your value chain is the entirety of your business process, starting when your product gets created and ending when it's enjoyed by your customer.It’s called a value chain because each step should add value to the final product or service.By taking a deep dive on your value chain, you can determine if some steps add more value than others.In your investigation, watch out for bottlenecks. A bottleneck blocks the productivity of your value chain and commonly occurs when employees or equipment can’t keep up with production at a specific step.A common bottleneck for businesses is the handoff process.
- If your company relies on managing expense payments to keep production flowing and clients happy, then make sure there are no bottlenecks in the approval process.
- If your policies require final sign-offs from senior leaders - who are often tied up in meetings or travel. If you miss handoffs you can miss orders and create unhappy clients.
- Try assigning a designate with the ability to approve payments when the other authority is busy. That should get payments flowing and business activities back to their full potential.
Remember: do a mapping exercise of your value chain and identify opportunities to cut slack while adding value to your final product or service.
#2 Can you automate your repetitive tasks?
Some tasks are required to keep your business going but can be streamlined with automation techniques. The common culprits are activities like filing, paperwork, packaging and data entry.Let’s look at data entry as a common example:
- Does your office administration do lots of data entry? That activity might pull them away from accomplishing other meaningful tasks like booking new clients or referring customers to other employees.
- Try doing the data entry in batches. Batching is a great automation technique that sets aside designated time to do repetitive tasks all in one go. It’s better than letting your employees get distracted throughout the work week. Every time they have to drop what they’re doing and switch tasks, it creates a process inefficiency.
- Try going one step further with full automation. You can utilize digitization software that turns handwritten letters and numbers into digital files that can be further processed on your computer systems. Once digitized, all that’s required is a quick validation process, meaning you can reduce the hours your administrators spend punching numbers onto their keypads.
Remember: repetitive tasks exist throughout your business. Try to automate them with digital solutions or with common techniques like batching.
#3 Are your employees empowered?
One of the most challenging and delicate areas to innovate workflow efficiencies are with your employees.Employees are often the front lines of your business. They know the process like the backs of their hands. That’s why it's important to get their feedback about ways to innovate your business process and empower them to enact change.
- Watch and track how your employees perform their tasks, which will help you spot the fastest ways to do something. Then, build that process into your policies and training so that other employees follow suit. Empower the best employees to mentor others.
- Optimize your delegation techniques. Monitor when managers get involved in routine business operations that can be carried out by other staff members. Empower your employees and delegate new responsibilities to them. Doing so can improve trust and morale, reduce the duplication of tasks and flatten out bottlenecks in your business process.
Remember: Use the powerful insights of your employees to your advantage when you optimize business processes.
#4 Have you used technology to its fullest potential?
There are lots of great software applications to help with optimizing your business processes.The benefits are numerous:
- Software can help with automation by sending alerts to certain employees that are required at various stages of the value chain.
- It can help improve communication and collaboration by giving a consistent platform for all departments to stay in touch with each other. Improved communication helps reduce delays and minimize errors from misinterpretation.
- A software suite is like automating your own analysis of your value chain. Let the software take on the challenging parts of analysis like gathering data and looking for bottlenecks.
Remember: innovating your business process with software can greatly increase productivity. Make sure that every team member is willing and able to use the software since their data input is essential to the project.
Better process means more time for innovation
There’s no better time than the present to go down the route of process improvement. Doing a proper analysis can be a great opportunity to improve your internal abilities and the value that you bring to customers.Make sure that you are transparent about your improvement activities. Employees in your company don’t like to feel like their activities are wasteful or redundant. Be sure to frame the issue from a problem-solving perspective.By removing the activities that don’t add value you can free up employee hours and give them opportunities to take on bold new innovation exercises.Ready for more in our series of 8 Ways to Innovate Your Business? Read the next guide on how you can innovate your marketing efforts.