Do Your Processes Help or Hinder?

Well developed processes guide activity. However, many people find that processes instead hinder activity, a common and consistent enough occurrence that the very word process makes people wince with fear or distaste. To reverse the negative perception of process as a constricting set of rules imposed by managers with nothing better to do than micromanage the people who work for them, analyze your business’ processes to see what’s working and what’s not working. Then act on that analysis, because inaction leads to deeper problems than mere bottlenecks.

Pipefy states at the outright that “[i]dentifying the flaws in your company’s processes is not an easy exercise and can’t be accomplished without dedicating time and effort.” This exercise in analysis requires mapping and analyzing existing processes and determining the viability and necessity of every single step in the process. Although painstaking, this analysis will not only expose the bottlenecks, but it will also help you find those unanticipated opportunities to improve. If you’re not sure whether your processes are as good as they should be, Pipefy advises taking a look at competitors’ processes. How do your processes compare? How do your competitors overcome the challenges that stymie your employees? Impartiality and objectivity matter. Since most competitors won’t allow you to examine their employee handbooks and operation processes, you may find hiring a consultant beneficial, to take advantage of the knowledge the consultant has learned from working with other companies.

Those problems within the process that diminish effectiveness, cause delays, degrade quality, add cost, or otherwise impede delivery of a product or process pose critical flaws. Resolution of those flaws absolutely requires thoughtful interaction with the people involved in executing those processes and those on either side of those benchmark steps whose work those bottlenecks affect. As much as a manager might not want to admit it, no one knows the work better than the people doing it–and no one knows how the process helps or hinders better than the people affected by that process. You need their input, which means that some of these discussions must take place privately behind closed doors without fear of reprisal.

If your employees don’t trust you, you won’t get honest responses–and that means you have bigger problems than an ill-conceived process.

When identifying bottlenecks, determine whether they’re short-term or long-term. Short-term bottlenecks occur on a temporary basis, such as when a key employee is sick, injured, or on vacation. Good processes include some redundancy in order to shift work and responsibility to other employees who can cover while someone’s out of the office. Long-term processes are systemic and often require some deeper investigation. MindTools offers two examples: 1) delayed delivery at a distribution center due to the warehouse not being forewarned of the truck’s arrival and the forklift being used for something else when the truck arrives; and, 2) a company’s end-of-month reporting delayed because the person responsible must complete a series of time-consuming tasks based on data not received until–you guessed it–the end of the month.

For systemic bottlenecks, the process of figuring out the resolution for the bottleneck rests upon a concise definition of the problem and following up with one the key question: “Why?” Ask that question as many times as necessary until you’ve dug to the bottom of the issue and have exposed the root cause.

Resolution may require major adjustment or minor tweaks. Don’t judge the value of the change by the effort going into executing that change, but by the result of the change. Sometimes, small modifications bring the greatest value. Resolution of bottlenecks goes one three ways: increasing the efficiency of that step, decreasing the input flowing to that benchmark step, or eliminating that step. Changes that feed into the first two steps may involve reassignment of personnel, upgrade in technology, reallocation of resources, and adjustment of delivery schedules to accommodate a necessary step.

Once the process has been improved and the bottleneck either eased or eliminated, revisit the process periodically. As business evolves, your processes must adjust to fit.