Have you noticed that certain things are not working well in your business? Perhaps you found yourself blaming your team, but the root cause of most problems lies in the system rather than in the people who operate it. (assuming that your team is competent, has the skills and takes ownership).
If this resonates with you, keep reading because in this article I’m explaining how you can analyze your business processes, identify what isn’t working and introduce improvements.
Improving your processes equals improving your business performance, so this is something that you cannot ignore or overtime it could kill your business!
COMMON PROBLEMS IN ONLINE BUSINESS PROCESSES
- You have processes that are inefficient. Processes that you introduced at some point and that they’ve been in use for a long time. They work, but they are not efficient (efficiency means doing things right, not just the right things!)
- You have processes that duplicate work or that have too many workarounds (they’ve been there for ages in order to fix a situation what was supposed to be “temporary”).
- Lack of standardization. Each person performs the task in their own way.
- Too many people involved. There are too many people checking or approving something which may create an unnecessary amount of steps. Too many bottlenecks which can result in delays or poor relationships with clients.
In addition to these, you may also find that you have a big backlog of things that need to be done, lots of delays, low team morale, resistance to change… Combine all of these and there is a chance that your business will start to die quickly.
If you are facing this type of problems, it is time to roll up your sleeves and do some serious business analysis work. If you have a manager this is something that you can delegate straight away!
Let’s dig into the steps that you can follow to analyze your business and improve your inefficient processes.
STEP 1 – ANALYZE YOUR PROCESSES
The first thing you want to do is to observe how things are at the moment. This is harder than it sounds because when you’ve been doing the same thing over and over it can be difficult to step back and really observe the process from the distance. Do not jump into a particular project or process as of yet. You need to understand what’s happening. Look at the current process and notice what isn’t working.
To make the observation process easier, try to pretend that nothing is wrong. Leave everything as it is and just watch it.
Pro tip: Take up a mind map and record all relevant information about the process that you are noticing. Mind mapping is a technique for visualizing connections between many pieces of information. Once you’ve got your mind map you will have a better idea of where things need help and also what area of your business needs help first.
Look at the information you’ve gathered and identify which process has one or more of the following issues:
- Lots of customer complaints
- Takes too long to complete
- Causes delays
- Creates unacceptable errors
- Creates stress on your team
Select a process that needs improvement. To start, always look for the lowest hanging fruit. That means something that it’s easy to achieve and that produces instant benefits. Introducing new ways of doing things can have an impact on your team, but if they see the benefits quickly, they will trust you more.
STEP 2 – DEFINE THE DESIRED “TO-BE”
What are your business objectives? If you don’t know where you want to be, you cannot make improvements. That’s why this step is super important. Your business goals should be SMART:
An example for an online course creator could be: <My goal is to eliminate the complaints we receive via email from customers who have completed XYZ course but have not received their certificate of completion right after completion. This should be achieved within 2 months for now. I will monitor all my emails to ensure that after we’ve implemented a solution, there are no more complaints of this kind. It is achievable because I have $$ budget for process improvements and a new manager who has experience in business analysis.>
Because you know what the problem is and what the desired scenario looks like, you can now analyze your current process for sending certificates and how you can improve it so that there are no more complaints after 2 months.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How can I improve the process?
- Can I automate the process?
- What is the user need?
- What is the root cause?
In our example, it could be that users want to download the certificate straight away after completing the course. If you don’t know what your users need are (in some cases it may not be so straightforward), ask them!
STEP 3 – DEVELOP A NEW OR IMPROVED PROCESS
First of all, identify what are the elements of the process.
- What event(s) will initiate the process
- What tasks make up the process
- What actors will carry out the tasks
- What is the flow of the tasks
- What decisions can lead to alternative flows
- What is the endpoint – The outcome of the process
- What is the timeline for the process (this is optional)
Once you have identified the elements, create a new process map. Share this with your team as it will help them understand the process and where they fit in.
This is an example of a process map for a simple hiring process:
Pro tip: If your solution involves automating part or the whole process, consider simplifying the process first before jumping straight into automation. You could end up automating something that is already inefficient!
Pro tip: Follow Pareto’s principle 80/20. You don’t have all the time in the world so try to focus on improving the processes that will give more results.
Also, consider the elimination of a process as an option. We can easily get caught up on finding ways of improvement but think if getting rid of part of the process could make things easier.
STEP 4 – IMPLEMENT AND MAINTAIN
The implementation of a new process should be planned. The amount of planning will depend on how big the process is, how many parts are involved and how big the impact is. With small teams, you can introduce changes faster than in a big organization (that’s one of the things I love about working with small teams!). If it is a big process, roll it out in stages. You don’t have to implement all changes at once.
Make sure your team understands WHAT are the changes and WHY you are implementing them. Some teams may have resistance to change but if they see the benefits they will embrace it and adapt quickly.
It is worth investing time in re-training your team to avoid frustration and chaos. Implementing a new process should be smooth.
Create Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to document the process (high level) and procedures (nitty gritty details). I wrote a very detailed article on how to create SOPs for your business. Check it out!
Your SOPs should document the process “as is” and you should always maintain them so that you don’t end up with a bunch of outdated documentation!
TWO ISSUES WITH PROCESSES
Issue #1 – Communication
Many times I see teams struggling to talk to each other. They end up ignoring things that are broken or not done well just because they are not communicating with their teammates.
Some people really have a hard time being honest with themselves and with the rest of the team and they won’t address issues. To avoid this, it’s important that you establish a trust model so that your team feels safe. They should be able to come to you and say “look, this isn’t working” or “this is taking a ridiculous amount of time, can we go through it and see if we can improve it?”.
Issue #2 – Same term, different understandings
The second most common issue that I’ve seen when working with teams especially around processes is that people may have slightly different understandings of what the same term means. To solve this, make sure your SOPs includes the following:
- What this process is and what it is not
- What roles are involved and who does what
- A video showing how to perform the task and what systems are involved (this is especially powerful when working with remote teams in digital projects)
I believe that if you have the right people on board, they will be committed to doing their job. They want to own the work and see results. They are self-motivated. However, sometimes they may reach a point when they are struggling so much with a particular process that they give up. That is why having trust as one of the main company’s values can solve a lot of issues down the line.
CAN YOU DO IT?
Analyzing your processes and implementing improvements may sound a bit daunting and time-consuming. And I’m not going to lie, it is. The most important stage is observing the current process and detecting where you can start introducing improvements. Many times you don’t need to change everything at once. Process improvement is iterative, you will have new findings along the way.
Your manager or whoever is in charge of creating and improving processes should be able to help you with that!
Let me know in the comments: Have you tried to improve your current processes? What is the biggest challenge that you are facing right now when it comes to systems and processes?
TOO BUSY TO MANAGE YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS?