It’s tough trying to figure out why your company is not performing as it should. You have probably implemented policies and procedures specifically designed to improve business performance. Your employees surely are working as hard as anyone possibly could. And still the results are not there. What should you do? Carlos Pardo, CEO of CapApex — an enterprise software solutions company, offers 6 steps to improve business performance. Consider the following:
1. Do not blindly pursue better performance at all costs
There may be legitimate reasons for poor performance — perhaps legislation or regulation that require you to create and approve endless paper trails that slow down your processes. Of course, you will still want to analyze whether you could automate these processes, outsource them or introduce some other procedure to improve performance. However, be ready to acknowledge that there may be activities where no improvement is possible.
2. Focus on broken processes not bottlenecks
Yes, bottleneck resolution can give you some short-term benefit and sometimes may even provide the same solution as a process driven analysis. However, focusing on the bottleneck can lead to unnecessarily widening the bottleneck whereas the core problem may lie somewhere else — perhaps the bottle is too wide or you’ve tilted the bottle too heavily. You may find, for example, that credit limit approvals are piling up on the approver’s (virtual) desk and customer orders are, thus, stalled. Focusing solely on the bottleneck may lead to hiring a second approver to share the workload or providing the approver with new tools to help her approve (or reject) more credit limit requests per hour. However, if you focus on the process and its goals (reducing risk and speeding up order processing amongst others) you may discover that the core problem is not the bottleneck. Perhaps the approval task was poorly designed to be carried out only at certain times whereas the approver could be processing the requests as they come in (reducing the angle of the bottle). Perhaps the rule for requiring credit limit approvals is too inclusive (you’re holding up perfectly trustworthy customer orders and, thus, widening the bottle more than necessary). Of course, focusing on where process has broken down means completely understanding your processes and their goals.
3. Analyze the problem
You need a good grasp of the causal links that are degrading performance of certain activities. You need to know the critical path of the process. In other words, take a look at:
All the activities that make up the process
How long the activities take to execute
Dependencies between the activities
Resources (people, software, machines, etc.) required to perform the activities
You need to examine if there are holes in the process. If activity B depends on activity A terminating you need to ensure that the person who executes activity B is available when activity A is completed.
4. Diagram your solution
A great way to work with processes (and have other people understand them) is to visualize them using diagrams. This is not easy, but it is a task that will help you streamline your processes. If you don’t streamline, your diagrams (with all the different decision branches) could stretch over dozens of pages. Your goal is reduce your sub-processes into manageable one-page diagrams. There are BPM (business process management) tools that can help you map out processes, but in order to diagram your solution you could use Visio or other graphical tools.
5. Test the solution
You may have defined some issues with your current processes and discovered ways to resolve the issues, but until you test them you won’t know for certain that they work and that they don’t cause other (maybe even larger) problems.
6. Automate and test again
Once you have tested your solutions, investigate whether there are any opportunities to get even bigger gains by automating some or all of the process activities (and if you find some, don’t forget to test the process again). Look for tools that automate activities that are rote, prone to human error and time consuming. BPM (business process management) tools can provide a cost and time savings. Review those on the market. There are several and they each have their strong points. But even if you don’t have the team or budget to purchase a BPM tool, you can automate processes with the tools you may already have — Outlook, SharePoint, even Windows come with the ability to automate certain activities.
To learn more about how to improve business processes and technology solutions to help, contact CapApex, an enterprise software consulting firm, at www.capapex.com.