How People & Processes Work Together for Better Business Outcomes
If you’re a business owner, you and your staff have developed certain activities and tasks that are designed to accomplish your business goals. These business processes can be visualized as a flow chart of steps and are often included in daily activity details of internal job descriptions.
All businesses have business processes, whether they are documented or not. Some business processes are industry specific, but many business processes are applicable regardless of the industry. For instance, a manufacturing assembly process is likely to be specific to a product (attach widget A to widget B before tightening screw C), while accounts payable processes are similar across all industries (match the invoice with the appropriate PO, secure authorization, cut the check).
In theory, business processes sound simple – a series of steps that results in a specified outcome. But in practice, it’s not always that easy. However, there are challenges...
Challenges to Business Processes
Executing business processes successfully is not always an easy task. Some of the challenges that arise are:
- Bottlenecks– the slowing or halting of a process due to human error or mechanical malfunction
- Duplication of work and redundancy – inefficient processes may have steps that are repeated or unnecessary.
- Communication gaps and malfunctions – paperwork or emails related to the process may be lost, misplaced or misdirected.
- Lack of visibility – management does not have a way of viewing where processes stand, what their status is, and how they are performing generally, and specifically.
It’s not only the processes that can be challenged. The people responsible for carrying out the processes can be challenged, too.
Challenges to People
The focus of business processes is results. While results matter, too many enterprises fail because they focus too much on results and not enough on the people responsible for achieving the results. The challenges to business processes listed above affect more than process outcome – they affect the employees who are responsible for carrying out the processes:
- Bottlenecks lead to employee frustration, because they can’t complete their part of the process
- Duplicated and redundant work causes employees to feel undervalued
- Interdepartmental communication problems lead to lack of cooperation between departments
- Lack of process visibility can result in ineffective management policies, which aggravate employee problems.
While achieving results at the expense of employee job satisfaction may not cause immediate business failure, it is guaranteed to cause high employee turnover, increased training expenses, and stagnate growth. When enterprises come to the realization that they are nothing without their employees, they also realize that employees that are engaged and made to feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, perform well and produce favorable results. Therefore, a manager can’t look solely at processes to improve efficiency. She needs to include the people who implement the processes in any discussions about changes to the processes.
Great People + Effective Processes = Success
Processes don’t work without people to implement and manage them. Therefore, when you analyze your business processes, it’s important to get input from the people who perform the processes, as well as the managers who put them in place. Here are eleven questions you can use to start your analysis:
- Why is this process in place?
- What is the desired outcome?
- When is the deadline and are there periodic checkpoints?
- How many employees are involved in this process?
- Who is responsible or accountable for which tasks or projects?
- Are there metrics or some form of measurement associated with this process?
- What obstacles or roadblocks prevent the process from flowing smoothly?
- What resources (people, time, dollars) are required to complete this process?
- How important is this process to our company’s core business?
- How can this process be more effective?
- How do you ensure that the processes are being followed, especially as the business grows?
Answers to these questions will shed light on areas that are ripe for improvement, and the latest “intelligent” technologies may be just what you need to bring about the needed improvement.
Technology for Business Process Improvement
Electronic Document Management (EDM) has been the backbone of Business Process Improvement (BPI) for some time, but broader usability and new technologies have opened the application of EDM to more business uses, and enabled companies to open their EDM workflows and collaboration spaces to casual users. It has also enabled companies to extend EDM beyond internal users to partners, customers, and other outside collaborators, driving even greater returns.
- Artificial Intelligence – The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
- Machine Learning – Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.
- Robotic Process Automation – Refers to software that can be easily programmed to do basic tasks across applications just as human workers do. ... RPA software is designed to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on employees.
Discussions of these technologies sometimes cause fear that they may eliminate jobs. In most business situations, these technologies do not result in job loss, but rather in job redirection. As EDM and “smart” technologies take over the jobs that include boring, repetitive tasks (and that have high turn-over rates), existing employees move into more rewarding activities, resulting in a win-win situation for both employees and employers. Employees have greater job satisfaction and employers benefit by less employee turn-over.