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Preparing your business processes for growth

Carmen Jacobs Carmen Jacobs on November 20, 2015

Preparing your business processes for growth

Not every organization was negatively impacted by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Some still have strong growth targets. Many others are still working their way back to positive growth.

These organizations must ensure that everything is ready for the growth and expansion they plan to achieve. Key to recovery and growth are the business processes that shape the organization’s value chain, that define what the organization is actually doing. It is important to focus improvement activities on those processes that are facilitating the strong growth.

Other companies used the GFC to consolidate their product/service offerings and spend time analyzing their target market. Their marketing teams have excellent concepts to generate new business and marketing campaigns are ready to roll. Business area managers were advised to expect significant business growth. But before such a campaign is started, it is important to look at the related business processes and make sure they are able to survive such growth.

How to prepare your processes for growth

These are the key steps that are vital in preparing for your organization’s growth:

  • establish process governance
  • know and understand your business processes
  • understand the impact of growth on your processes, involved data, personnel resources, systems, risks, business rules and policies/regulations
  • analyses relevant process measures and define process objectives
  • improve and standardize your processes before the growth and ‘test run’ them
  • develop ‘process short cuts’ with a close eye on risk management
  • develop a standard escalation process
  • develop a process improvement

Preparing your business processes for growth

Establish process governance

To be able to manage the processes of an organization, some standards and policies need to be defined and this is done by process governance.

Process governance includes the definition of process standards and notations, methods to define and manage objectives and measurement, roles and responsibilities, process improvement methodology as well as a process for process lifecycle management.

The five key elements of process governance are:

See Roger Tregear’s article on BPTrends about ‘Practical Governance’ for more details. (http://www.tinyurl.com.au/2y).

Know and understand your processes

All staff must understand the processes in which they are involved. A lot of organizations run on the assumption that all employees know how ‘things are done around here’. While this might be true for some, there is a good chance that there are many different views of what constitutes ‘standard’ practice; many more than might be apparent to management.

This is not a suggestion to document all current processes in great detail. It is recommended to get a good idea about the ‘happy path’ of your key processes, ie understand how the processes operates if everything works well. This process documentation should contain at least the process steps, decision points, involved parties/roles and systems involved as well as relevant business rules. Producing Process Scope Diagrams and an Enterprise Process Architecture (at least a simple one) will also add to your overall understanding of the key processes.

Exception handling may be the least standardized aspect of your processes. Identify the most common exceptions and document a standard approach.

Understand the impact of growth

Not all processes will be equally affected by your growth plans. Some process may only be affected in the beginning, some later and some through the whole time. This is a challenge to all resources involved.

Use your expansion plans and marketing activities to review the impact on your business processes. For each area of growth, identify the related business processes that support this growth and understand the chronological order of the impact of the growth. What business processes must work well under increased load, and in what timescale, for your expansion plans to be successful?

A growth wave will pass through your processes. First the planning is done for any expansion (planning and exploration), then more staff are required in some areas (hiring, on-boarding and payroll process), then IT needs to provide for many more users (IT support processes), inductions need to be performed, and so on through to delivery of value to the customer.

It is helpful to make a list of the envisioned changes per area, the expected timeline (start, duration), the involved processes, and the expected number of process executions (e.g. one person or 100 hundred persons to be hired) as well as the related cost drivers.

This time perspective will help shape the priorities for your program of process analysis and improvement. Ride the wave, don’t get dumped!

Analyze relevant process measures and define process objectives

Once the relevant processes have been identified, the performance objectives of these processes need to be identified. This is best done in a Process Vision Statement containing the vision, the objectives and the measures. The measures would usually include at least one measure of the time, cost and quality aspects.

If you want to grow your business, you will need to know your numbers. For example:

  • How often do you run your process(es) at the moment?
  • How many times will your process(es) run if your growth plans succeed?
  • Which processes will be affected the most by the growth and over what time period?
  • How long does it take to complete the process for one customer/request/product?
  • How many resources are required to perform the process once? How many if you perform it 10 times, 100 times in one week?
  • How much does the process execution cost you for one, 10 or 100 executions?
  • What is the quality of your process delivery? Does the quality match the customer requirements?
  • What are other relevant measures for your processes?

Improve and standardize your processes

Any problems that you have currently will almost certainly increase with the increase in process execution. The more effective and efficient your processes are running now, the more likely it will be that the growth runs smoothly.

Once you know your process objectives and current pain points, you will able to identify the focus areas for your process improvement activities. There are various methodologies available to improve the processes. Often a mix of Lean, Sig Sigma and redesign patterns is used, depending on the purpose and suitability. Most of it can be achieved with careful questioning:

  • Why do we need these process variants? What have the process variants in common?
  • What functions add value to the process outcome?
  • What functions are required because of compliance (most importantly those you can’t change, e.g. tax, laws)?
  • Who is doing the process step and is the right role/position doing the job or could someone else do it (better)?
  • Can a process step be automated/supported with new/available technology?
  • Do you have to do it in this order?
  • Are there waiting times in the process and how can you reduce waiting time?
  • What are the real dependencies in the process and where can you run things in parallel?
  • Can we summarize different decisions? Can we make decision earlier in the process?
  • How can you break the process and how can you prevent this from happening?

Whatever techniques you apply for your process improvement and standardization, always keep your process objectives in mind.

If your business wants to grow by say 30% per annum that will mean a much larger increase in the execution of some processes. Those processes that are about preparing for, and sustaining, successful growth, eg recruitment, will be especially active. Finding efficiencies in these growth enabling processes will save time and money and greatly increase the likelihood of success.

Reducing the recruitment cycle from, say, 15 to 10 days will have a range of important effects:

  • reduce the direct cost of recruiting
  • reduce the staff time costs of recruiting
  • make the new staff available and productive sooner
  • reduce the chances of missing out on a outstanding candidate
  • improve the image of the organization with all

Once you know your process and associated cost, you may also evaluate the option of outsourcing your processes. Refer to our previous post ‘What is Involved in Outsourcing BPM?  by Sandeep Johal  

Develop ‘process short cuts’

If your processes are still not performing well under increased load, it is helpful to think about ‘shortcuts’ for process execution under certain circumstances, e.g. if the number of requests/orders increase over a certain threshold. These thresholds need to be defined and regularly monitored and reviewed.

Shortcuts are usually a simplification of a process where decision points are skipped or simplified to allow faster processing. This is particularly possible if you can narrow down process alternatives. For example, for a process handling orders resulting from a targeted marketing campaign you know that certain requests for service can only come from existing customers. So you can skip the check if the person contacting you is an existing customer, pre-populate the information in a system and only gather the required information.

The questions that need to be carefully considered in this context are:

  • What are the related risks associated to the simplified decisions?
  • Does the shortcut have any negative effects for the customer?
  • What is the actual time and cost saving in relations to these risks?
  • What information needs to be available to allow the shortcut?
  • Who will make the decision when the shortcut is allowed/to be used?
  • If a system is supporting the process, can the system be changed quickly enough to support these process shortcuts?

Develop a standard escalation process

When looking at exception handling and escalation processes one will often find a large variety of processes, procedures, standards and rules.

Business processes should be described with a ‘happy path’ and exception handling or escalation process. A process can usually be kept simple if decision points can be simplified and made early. Business rules can greatly assist here to keep the focus on the process flow.

Where there are too many options and failure modes you may need to specify escalation processes based on key attributes (e.g. customer groups, product groups, seasons, country).

If an escalation process is to work it needs to be easily understood and applied. Criteria to trigger different escalation processes need to be easily assessed by all involved in the process.

Develop a process improvement process

The ‘process of process improvement’ is perhaps the most important process. The better it is documented and known to everyone involved, the more likely it is that operational business processes can be improved, especially during busy times. To ensure process improvements are collected and implemented, a process for the change management of processes needs to be established, documented, communicated and monitored. Accountability and responsibility for this process needs to be clear and measures communicated.

Better and more beneficial process improvement suggestions will be received if the ‘process of process improvement’ is well understood with clear objectives and measures. An incentive system for realized process improvements triggered by staff suggestions can work well. Public recognition may be just as effective as financial reward. An open, fair and well managed process improvement suggestion system will underpin continuous improvement.

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Topics: BPM - Business Process Management