You should always be on the lookout to see how you can improve the efficiency and quality of your business. Whether you are a restaurant focusing on local customers, or a software company with clients all over the globe, improving operations and their efficiency in your organization makes a huge difference.
The term “process excellence” encompasses a lot of what business leaders are looking for. Process excellence means performing all the core parts of your business at a very high level of efficiency and quality. It gives the image of a well-oiled engine with all cylinders firing.
But, while everyone wants to achieve process excellence, very few actually get there. Most leaders struggle to actually get to a place where they feel like their processes are running smoothly and as designed. Even more of them don’t quite know where to start or how to implement their plan. As such, process excellence seems like an ever-moving target.
If you want to get the results of process excellence (greater productivity, better communication, and fewer errors), but need some help getting off the ground, the tips below can help you.
1. Think in Terms of Processes
W. Edward Demming once said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”
This is the first place to start. How many processes can you think of in your team or organization? While you may have a few formal ones like purchase orders, paid time off requests, and sales orders, you probably have dozens and dozens of less defined processes such as how to respond to a comment on your blog or how to handle customer complaints.
But, processes are all around your business. In fact, a business might be described as the sum of all of its processes. Everything you do is a sequence of tasks as you process data or materials in some way.
However, to achieve process excellence, you don’t need to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each and every tiny process (like how to celebrate an employee’s birthday). The important part is to see your business through the lens of processes.
Every business has some processes that are ad-hoc, some that are defined, some that are manual, and some that are automated. Furthermore, some processes occur daily while others might happen only once a year.
Once you start thinking about processes, you can start to see where the chaos and inefficiencies are coming up, allowing you to better handle the problem.
2. What Kind of Excellence Do You Want?
Now that you are looking at your business in terms of a set of processes, to achieve excellence you need to first define what you mean by excellence. What is the most important quality you want to achieve?
Do you define excellence as the standardization of how you handle items in a process? Or do you focus on efficiency and eliminating waste? Perhaps in your specific case, waste is not as big of a concern as reducing cost, reducing errors, or improving the overall quality.
When you are defining what process excellence means, you don’t need to choose only one definition. However, you do need to rank the aspects of excellence for different areas. For example, in your financial processes, you may say that the highest form of excellence is reducing errors to zero, followed by standardizing the process and reducing the total time. Therefore, if you have an option to reduce the time, but it might come with some errors, you are clear that this option will not make your process more excellent.
Each area of your business might have a different answer or ranking of excellence parameters. In certain areas, reducing errors to zero would be a “nice-to-have” goal, but it isn’t as important as ensuring prompt service. For example, you may be able to tolerate a minimal amount of errors in the production of your product or service as long as it always meets the deadline and is never late.
3. Don’t Develop in an Echo Chamber
Just as your business is made up of many processes, there are many stakeholders involved in each process. As a business owner or leader, it is tempting to want to pursue process excellence on your own, especially when you have a specific initiative or goal you are trying to achieve. But, each of those stakeholders will be able to provide a lot of important information to help you achieve your goals.
When it is time to focus on an individual process, you should bring in all the people who are involved in it, especially those who are most hands-on. They can provide expert insights into why a particular process seems to be so far away from excellence. By bringing in many voices, you will get a better picture of how the process actually runs as opposed to how you think it should run.
If you are the only one contributing to process excellence, you miss out on the input and participation from everyone involved. Once everyone has realized the need for excellence for a particular process, they will be motivated to achieve it as well. Bring in many people to the conversation and you will be able to better optimize the process.
4. Optimize for the Customer
One stakeholder that too few companies consider when developing and improving processes is the customer. They are the ones who experience the final result of all of your processes.
Many times it is tempting to optimize a process for the metrics that matter the most to us internally—cost, control, and efficiency. However, if the customer isn’t considered in this, then even the most excellent of processes will fall flat. A business that only optimizes for its own efficiencies, cost savings, and internal quality standards will not grow if those metrics are not appreciated by the customer. The customer is ultimately the final evaluator of whether a process is truly excellent.
How well do you know your customers? Do you know what they expect in certain situations? How long are they willing to wait until they hear from your support team? How tolerant are they of defects in the product? How much work are they willing to do to find you? How much are they willing to pay for a better product?
Think about your customer as you develop and optimize your processes. If you had a customer in an internal meeting when deciding how to structure a process, what would you want them to see? Being transparent in your processes will also help you to make decisions that help the end customer. When you optimize your processes for your customers, you are more likely to create a situation where the process can create a virtuous cycle of growth and happiness.
5. Think About Complexity
Complexity is both the best and worst partner when it comes to achieving process excellence. Complexity can allow you to create sophisticated workflows, advanced forms, automation, high-level backend integrations, and a host of other tools that open up new possibilities for your processes. Anytime you want to bring a process under control you must add a certain amount of complexity.
However, complexity can also hamper the actual end results of the process. Some processes need to be simplified in order to be better. Some need technology removed from them in order to be more efficient.
As you are working towards achieving your process excellence goals, be careful of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Each individual process may need to have more or less complexity added to achieve your goals.
6. Measure. Measure. Measure.
There is a lot of truth to the adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” If your goal is to reduce errors, you must have a reliable way to track errors. If your goal is to reduce cost, you must track how your finances move. Once you decide on a definition for excellence, you need to decide how to measure it.
However, some metrics are harder to measure than others. Many of your customers might define their happiness with your product more along how it makes them feel than how much they paid for it or how quickly it arrived for them.
For example, at KiSSFLOW, one of the largest factors of how customers judge the success of a BPM implementation is how much less chaos happens as a result of the automation. But, there may not always be numeric indicators that you can use to track this change.
What is the number of email escalations? How about the number of fights in the meeting room? What are the overall blood pressure levels?
Even if the objective isn’t numerically measurable, you can still find ways to track how satisfied someone is with the state of the process.
Everyone is interested in process excellence and everyone can see the areas they want to improve. If you are starting to feel stuck where you are and don’t know how to move forward, use these tips to get on track. However, it all starts with seeing and evaluating everything you do as a process.
Once you establish what you want to accomplish, find new and creative ways to achieve the goals you seek!
To find out more about achieving process excellence, visit KiSSFLOW on their website.