Many different methodologies can be used to improve business processes. The successful foundation for all of them is to document your process. This allows you to determine the source of inefficiency, bottlenecks and problems, and then re-design the process to focus on the desired result with technology that is the best fit. For example, you may ask accounts payable, “How can we take advantage of more early payment discounts?” For HR: “How can we ensure that we have all of the necessary HR documentation for every employee?”
Once documented, workflow automation software can be an effective tool to improve process efficiency and effectiveness for virtually any business function. This technology can provide significant benefits including faster transaction speed, improved process insight, lower transactional costs, and increased customer satisfaction—all of which can lead to competitive advantage.
How Do You Eat An Elephant? One Bite at a Time.
The first step in any process improvement project is to document where you are today. The most important part of this process is to understand the rules regarding your processes, and determine what is required by your systems and your organization. In some cases, outside rules and regulations govern your actions (i.e., legal auditability). In other cases, your business practices drive your actions. Regardless of where the rules come from, it is important to know that they exist, and how they affect the documents that drive your processes.
Key Objectives Are, Well, Key
After documenting your current processes and the rules governing them, determine the key objectives of your process improvement activities. For example, you may want to determine how to process invoices faster to take advantage of more early payment discounts. In this case, the key objective is reducing the time to process the invoice. Other key objectives may be to increase order accuracy or to increase visibility into the process for executive management.
After documenting the process, you can determine where to insert technology to satisfy these key objectives. For instance, if a high percentage of invoices require approvals and business rules allow for them to be routed electronically for review and approval, then this improved process can result in streamlined processing and more early payment discounts.
Test and Re-Test
Once you have determined how to use technology, you will want to test the new process to determine how well it works and where there may be hiccups. In some cases, you may have thought that daily notifications were a good idea, only to find out that they quickly fill up your inbox, becoming a nuisance. Testing allows for these adjustments to be made prior to the official launch of the new process, which increases user adoption and decreases resistance to change. Documenting the final version of the process will help capture all of this hard work, thinking and experience, and can be used to train new people.
Tip: Keep Out Creep
When determining how your processes operate, make sure that you can have some “quick wins.” Everyone has an example of how a project that was supposed to take two to three months that really took two to three years because of scope creep. Quick wins help to build confidence, erode resistance and can keep your team properly motivated to tackle project phases two, three and four.
A Path to Competitive Advantage
Increasing efficiency, gaining visibility into your processes and cutting costs starts with documenting your business processes and ends with a successful implementation of workflow automation—just make sure to also test, re-test and keep out the creep. This is most likely achieved when working with a company experienced in implementing workflow automation software that meets your business needs. These days, workflow is surprisingly affordable, particularly when coupled with document scanning services to handle capture and cloud document management.