How to Improve Business Processes
If you're a business owner who has decided that it's time for your business to "become more productive," then we have news for you. It's going to take a lot more than wishful thinking to turn your business into a productivity machine.
Let's look at what increase productivity really means. Increased productivity is a broad term meaning that your employees and your departments are putting out more "products" more quickly (and hopefully at lower costs, so the bottom line improves). It doesn't matter whether the "products" are widgets produced on a manufacturing line or financial reports from your accounting department. Every employee, every department has a mandate to produce.
A desire to increase productivity and reduce costs is a great place to start, but without an end goal and a concrete plan, that's all it is -- just a desire. It's rather like saying "I'm going to lose weight -- or exercise more. Without a specific goal and a workable plan to get there it's not going to happen.
Everyone Wants to be More Productive
Search Google for ways to make your business more productive, and you’ll find infinite articles that speak to your anxiety that your business could be doing better, if only you’d be a better boss, be better organized, increase incentives, or buy this software or that solution. It’s easy to be seduced by any of these messages.
In fact, our company, Paper Alternative Solutions, regularly talks and writes about ways a paperless office provides efficiencies and increased productivity. And, in a very general sense that’s true, but if you’re a business owner, you have to take the time to go beyond the general paperless office to the specifics of your business.
For instance, if you have a simple process that’s working well with paper, it’s highly unlikely that converting it to a paperless process will make a big difference. That’s why we look to the departments that have multiple pieces of paper and multiple processes to analyse areas where productivity can be improved via paperless technology.
Usually it’s accounting, human resources, manufacturing, legal contracts, forms processing, and other such repetitive, paper-intense processes that benefit from paperless solutions and automated workflow solutions. However -- and this is a BIG point that we make any time we do a business analysis – while paperless technology can make tasks easier, the hard fact is that new technology will never overcome basic process problems. However, with the right goals in mind and the proper amount of thought given to existing processes, a paperless process may make a huge difference.
Take a Hard Look at Current Processes
This is usually where the owner of the company, or the CEO needs to step away from the roll of having all the answers and making all the plans. Start talking to your employees. Ask them questions like these suggested by an article in Lifehack.org:
- Why are you doing this?
- What is the desired outcome?
- When is the deadline and are there periodic checkpoints?
- What is your role?
- Who is responsible or accountable for which tasks or projects?
- Do you have metrics or some form of measurement?
- What are the possible roadblocks or obstacles?
- What are the available resources?
- How important is this project or task?
- What can I, as the boss, do to help you be more effective?
Getting answers to these question for each and every paper-laden process in your company will give you valuable information to help you decide if, and how, paperless process can make a difference. Look toward making changes in those areas where there are repetitive, paper-heavy processes that your company relies upon. Most often we find that "back-office" activities like invoice processing, billing and personnel management are ripe for paperless improvement and return the best ROI for our clients.
Every organization relies on repetitive tasks to accomplish its “big picture” goals, and the exercise you and your employees have completed, once you have all answered the 10 Questions above, should give you a clear understanding of process inefficiencies, as well as insight into ways they could be handled more productively.
This is where you make the decision to turn the ineffective processes into automated paperless processes, while simultaneously “letting go” of concerns over paper processes that will not be improved by paperless automation. Now you have a clear blueprint for improving your business processes. The next step is finding a reliable solutions vendor to help you take on the task. More on that in a future article.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in Janurary 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.