How to Improve Processes in Your Business

Systems in business are a little like closets – you might start out with it nice and organized, but over time things tend to get messed up. Clutter sets in, and it doesn’t function as well as it used to.

If you feel like your business systems and processes aren’t functioning as well as you’d like, maybe it’s time for a spring cleaning in your business!

Now, if you’ve ever cleaned out a closet, you know things get way messier before they get better. The same is true of cleaning up stuff around your business.

It can be a time-consuming process, which is why systems often get pushed to the back burner. But when it comes to systems, you have to slow down so you can speed up. (make a call-out quote?) Involving your team might be just what you need to get your business processes streamlined again.

What is a Business Process?

A business process is an organized collection of activities or tasks that are meant to standardize a specific function. Processes are usually designed to improve efficiency, customer satisfaction, and productivity, while reducing errors and costs. It could involve sophisticated automation, or be as simple as a checklist that any trained employee can follow.

Why Do Things Get Messy in Business?

Business operations can become messy (that is, inefficient) due to a lack of proper business process and systemization. When your business does not have defined processes in place, it makes it difficult for people to know how things should be done, which leads to confusion, disorganization and inconsistency in quality or service levels.

Even if your business starts out with clearly documented processes, things change, so your mindset around systemization cannot be “set it and forget it.”

Business evolves, your customer base grows, employees come and go… so it’s entirely possible that some old ways of running your business used to work just fine, but don’t fit anymore.

How To Clean Up Your Messy Processes

I strongly suggest meeting with your team to ask where they see inefficiencies or areas of “clutter” in the business, then get their ideas on how to make the business process improvements.

See, the “messy closets” in your business are probably driving them crazy too, and making their jobs harder than they have to be. Plus, when you involve the team in the solution, they own it, and they enjoy taking part in the process of improvement.

Here are some questions you can use to assess where to begin:

  • Are there processes you know are inefficient, or where you (or others) constantly have to work around obstacles or headaches?
  • What is taking longer than it should, but everyone is too busy to slow down and streamline or automate it to go faster?
  • Where are people losing time due to lack of clear expectations or instructions, or not having all the resources they need?
  • How can we ensure a consistently great customer experience – every time?

Once you’ve compiled a list of everything you’d like to improve, organize it into an outline, as if it were the table of contents for your new “process Bible.” From there, you can prioritize, and tackle one at a time.

Clean Up Messy Processes - Karie Kaufmann

Assign an Owner

It’s important to assign an owner to each process – particularly those that cross a variety of people or departments, as there isn’t otherwise an obvious accountable leader to oversee it. The reason why is that the biggest breakdowns in business happen in the handoff from one department to another. The baton gets dropped, and that can lead to finger pointing, and missing the mark on customer expectations.

The process owner is not necessarily responsible for doing every step of the process – they are simply accountable for ensuring that the process gets followed, and that it is yielding the desired outcomes.

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Process

A core process is one that crosses multiple functions in the business, and directly impacts the customer experience. Each core process should have KPIs (key performance indicators) to measure its effectiveness in making things better, faster or cheaper.

Note that these are not the same as individual KPIs,  as these metrics are to determine the effectiveness of a process – not a specific person.


Now that you’ve identified things that don’t work in business, ask yourself: Is this a people issue or a process issue?

Perhaps what you need is to get the right people involved in the process, or provide some training on different phases of the workflow. However, oftentimes when processes get messy, businesses attempt to solve the problem by throwing more people at it – not realizing it’s the process that’s broken.

Well, that’s a bit like buying a bigger house with more closets when your current closet gets too full. Instead, it’s time to take a step back, and apply these  “spring cleaning tips” to your systems and processes.


How Do I Develop Effective Processes?

To create an effective process, start by identifying the task or goal that needs to be accomplished. Then decide how it should be done: what tools and materials you need, what steps should be taken, and how long it will take.

Once you’ve identified all the components of the process, decide the most effective way to document it. Consider the working styles of the people who will be using the process to ensure it is easy to follow. If a system is too cumbersome, it will not be used.

Some common tools for process documentation include: checklists, flow charts, screen capture videos, or a step-by-step guide complete with pictures or screen shots. No matter the method, make sure it is stored in a central location, where it is easily accessible by those who need to use it.

Next, test your processes. Start with one or two people who were not involved in creating the process, as that will be the test of whether the process is as clear and complete as you thought. Once if you’ve made final adjustments, you can roll it out for broader adoption. Evaluate it after 30-90 days to ensure it’s producing the desired result, then review it 1-2 times per year as part of an ongoing process improvement practice.

What Makes a Process Effective?

A great process is one that is easy to use, is followed consistently, and yields the desired outcome.

A good way to measure process effectiveness is to identify metrics that indicate it’s success or failure. In other words, a process KPI that measures if something is happening better, faster or cheaper than it was previously.

If the process is not being followed consistently, or is not producing the desired measurable result, either it is ineffective or the team needs to be better trained on how to use it.

How can you make process improvement a priority?

If you want to become a process-oriented company, it must become part of your culture. As a leader, set the tone for why this is important, and lead by example.

Regularly challenge yourself and others on how to improve a specific area of the business by asking questions like, “why do we do it this way?” or “is there a better way to do this?”

This is a powerful technique to train your team to always think about business through the lens of process and improvement, and empowers people to challenge the status quo. Encourage people to poke holes in a process, and make suggestions for improvement… and when they do,  celebrate it!

While these techniques will help to make process management an ongoing conversation, don’t forget to zoom out once or twice per year to specifically evaluate different areas of the business. When you’re in the day-to-day it’s can be tough to see the big picture, so an annual or semiannual process review will keep your business optimized.