The First Step to Improve the Performance of Your Business
You have a business process and you know it’s not working as efficiently or at its full operating capacity. This is generally the point at which Prime 3 Software is called. A common complaint we hear from process owners is that they know their people are busy but they don’t know what their people are doing and feel as if their business is falling behind. At Prime 3 Software, we start with a simple questionnaire so we can take the temperature of the business and to assess how best to improve the performance of your business.
First and foremost, we want to see your process in action and your process documentation. I’d say 95% of the time the process is not documented and that's okay! This does not mean that 95% of businesses don’t have a process. Most of the time the process just hasn’t been recorded or is out of date. What often ends up happening is that the process passes from one employee to the next. Businesses will tell us, “we've always done it that way.” I counter by asking if that’s the way the process has been, what’s to say that’s the way it has to be? One thing at Prime 3 Software that we pride ourselves on doing is challenging the status quo. When an organization tells us, “we've always done it that way,” we will immediately ask, why? By drilling deeply into the how and the why of the process we can then make measurable changes that have a dramatic effect on the business.
What is the importance of a documented process?
Let’s say I have an employee, Janet, who is the only one who can carry out a complex operation. This operation is critical to the day-to-day operations of the business. In fact without Janet, no money would be coming in and no money would be going out, putting the business in a deadlock. What happens when Janet goes on vacation or she hits the lottery and decides she's going to take an early retirement? Without a well-defined process it's going to take 6 to 18 months to bring Janet's replacement up to speed. The person who covers for Janet has their own duties and is not prepared to take on Janet's extra workload, and likely can’t do the job as effectively or efficiently. Insulate your business operations from disruption by focusing on the processes carried out by each employee. Start with a very narrow scope to focus on a single operation in a very specific area (i.e., generating invoices, paying expenses, preparing price quotes). It is prohibitively difficult to document an entire process, start with individual tasks and work backwards.
2. Documentation for Repeatability and Quality of Service
The number two reason why we want to document our processes is for repeatability and quality of service. If you have multiple employees doing their jobs with their own secret sauce, the results will vary. This may not feel like a bad thing… you’ve empowered your staff to define their own processes and it allows them to shine. They’re really good at what they do and they’re the only ones who can do it. However, when you're dealing with customers and business partners, the consistency of your service is of the utmost importance. You don't want to leave anyone second-guessing your results. Years of consistent service are dashed by a single breach of trust. A single stain on your reputation is nearly impossible to remove. You also don't want business partners going directly to Janet for her help while skipping over others on the team because they don't do it “the right way” or the way they like it or Janet is the only one with the answers. When you allow outsiders to preempt your process it naturally makes your business inefficient. The process doesn’t just standardize your day-to-day operations, it produces consistent, repeatable results—it’s also your training manual. The process is your standard for carrying out your operations. The process is the basis for setting performance indicators, to measure performance and to make adjustments to perform at a higher level. A process also frees your employees to shine in other ways that can have a broader impact on the business.
3. Establishing Goals
This leads us to the third reason why you should document your process—your goals. When you have a documented process you can systematically identify how to make improvements. You can identify the places where the bottlenecks exist. You can identify opportunities where the process fails. If your process has a lot of alternate paths this is usually a good indicator that you haven’t standardized. You see this when a customer gets special treatment, which leads to a million different ways to do the same work. Until you have documented your process you probably haven't really noticed that you're conducting business in a fractured way. This behavior is quickly highlighted and can be measured to get a true understanding of the efficiency of your operations.
At Prime 3 Software we want to see a document process because it allows us to measure your existing process and challenge the norms. It also allows us to identify areas that may benefit from force multipliers like software. Our goal is to review the process, question the process, take measurements and set up a series of performance benchmarks. Once we make software changes we have comparable metrics to show demonstrable, quantitative results. We can provide our customers realistic measures for improvements made such as time saved or capacity gained.
If you know your business isn't as efficient as you would like it to be, your first step should be to document your process. Having a standard process has numerous benefits for your workforce and your business. It is also the best way to make strategic, measurable improvements to maximize the impact of your investment. This is something that Prime 3 Software does as part of our in-house process and we hope you’ll consider making it part of yours as well.