Processes not just formal procedures to be followed in order to get things done. Your processes reflect the culture of your business, including values, and why you do what you do.
Because of this your processes are fundamental to your business. By sticking to clear processes, you maintain consistent quality, service and brand experience. However, there is a danger that they get out of date. Processes need to evolve and grow with the business, and also adapt to external pressures. Processes that work for, say, a two person startup won’t provide what is required for a medium-sized business with a full product range.
Processes that do not work can lead to numerous problems, such as customers complaining about poor product quality or bad service; wasted resources, increasing costs, bottlenecks etc.
Correctly identifying problems is a challenge but also the first step towards finding a resolution and improving processes.
Here are two main methods to a) identify the root causes of the problems you need to tackle, and b) help you find the solutions and process improvements that are necessary.
- Problem-solving session
Problem-solving sessions are ideal when you already know what the problem is but are unsure how to solve it.
Firstly, create a commonly understood/agreed description:
- What the problem is ‒ a simple problem statement
- When the problem has been seen
- The magnitude of the problem
- The impact/ consequence of the problem (why is it important)
You may end up with a specific description, e.g. “We have lost 20% of our clients in the past year”, or a vaguer one: “Our profitability is decreasing”. Make no assumptions about the cause at this point!
Once you have a clear description of the problem, it’s time to measure its extent. To do this, you’ll need a comprehensive list of value elements ‒ anything that affects your costs or benefits your clients.
Involve the wider team now, including a representative sample of people who experience the issue.
A fishbones diagram can help identify the possible causes of the problem. For each branch (i.e. each possible cause) list every element involved in that branch.
The reasons for problems can generally be grouped as 8Ps or 8Ms:
Product or Service;
Productivity & Quality
Material (Includes Raw Material, Consumables and Information.);
Manpower (physical work) / Mind Power (brain work):
Measurement (data from reports, checks and controls);
Milieu / Mother Nature (Environment).
Management / Money Power;
Once you’ve clearly articulated the problem and discovered the extent of its impact, you need to identify solutions and immediate fixes.
A workshop where
staff can brainstorm is a good way to do this. The outcome will be a
range of potential solutions which you can test and implement. It’s good to
prioritise the solutions based on their likely impact and the time/effort/money
- Customer journey/value mapping
If you’re uncertain what the problem actually is, or want to be more comprehensive in your solution-gathering, or to improve processes in general, a customer journey map or value stream map can be useful.
A value stream map visually captures all your current processes down to the last detail.
First create a comprehensive list of your value elements ‒ anything that affects your costs or benefits your clients. Think of these elements as client touchpoints ‒ times when customers interact with your business.
Next gather data on the monetary and time value of each element; how much are they worth and how much do they cost? How long do they take? How much does this time cost you? As you go through each element, try to identify those that:
- add value for the customer ‒ things customers are willing/wanting to pay for
- are business non-value-added functions ‒ things your business needs to operate but which don’t add value, such as regulation and compliance costs
- do not add value ‒ waste to be eliminated.
From this point, it should be straightforward to identify processes that aren’t adding or delivering value and begin investigating why they don’t.
Perhaps Sales are used to promising a two-week delivery timetable, but it is delivered after four weeks and the customer is upset. The customer may understand, and therefore not report their experience back to your company.
Get the whole team involved in this discovery stage to help uncover such hidden issues. You could even start with a customer survey to identify any loss of value from their perspectives.
When you have identified the problem(s) it’s time to get on with finding solutions. Again, a team approach is helpful – don’t reject any idea out of hand. Aim to make your processes as lean as possible, to ensure they add value, and are all completely aligned.
Another option is to combine the two methods above. Write your problem statement, then gather client feedback and complete your value-stream mapping. Then run a problem-solving session on each touchpoint in your value stream map to ensure that every touchpoint delivers maximum value.
Regardless of the method, the trickiest part is being objective enough to accurately identify the root issues. To help overcome this and make the process faster and more effective, organisations often hire an external consultant to analyse their current processes, identify issues and offer tried-and-tested improvements. They know all the little questions to ask and the steps to follow to drill into the minute details.
If you don’t have the budget for a full-time consultant, you can use platforms like Consulthon to get some free ideas around what the problem may be and how to approach the issue, from expert consultants. You can arrange follow-up calls or meetings with the consultant with the best approach, allowing you to check-in with an expert at key milestones along the way.
Over time it is inevitable that your business processes will need to change. Don’t put off tackling what needs to be done. Pick a method that is best suited to your current situation and find the solutions and process improvements that will give your customers the best service, support your business and grow your profits.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marieta Bencheva is co-founder of Consulthon, a UK Management Consulting Expert Network. Businesses can raise a Business Challenge and the network’s experts will brainstorm solutions. After selecting the answer they like the most, the business can book a paid one-hour advisory call and deep-dive session with that consultant. All the consultants are vetted by Consulthon and the platform offers businesses access to a wide range of skills, in a variety of sectors and countries.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CONSULTHON @consulthon