Process is a double-edged sword: when it works well, it is barely noticeable as it slashes a path through often tricky situations; when it doesn’t, it’s a relentless nightmare throwing up frustrating, energy, morale, and productivity sapping hurdles.
And then there are processes that are so tightly bound up in sticky red tape, they appear to be designed to throttle any spark of initiative, enthusiasm, and life out of anyone attempting to negotiate what might appear to be a straightforward procedure.
“It’s the processes that don’t work, that have become unwieldy and complex or strangled by bureaucracy that give the very concept of process a bad name”, says Denis Bensch, CIO of FlowCentric Technologies. “Yet the only way a business can achieve consistency and operate effectively is by enforcing clearly defined, well documented and clearly understood processes.
“Strategically, it makes sense to have well-defined procedures for both critical and repetitive processes,” he says. “However, these must be streamlined so as to eliminate redundant and unnecessary steps such as the inexplicable practice of capturing useless data like fax numbers”.
An ideal process, he continues, is one that achieves the objective for which it is designed as efficiently as possible. Because each organisation is different, each has unique elements in its business processes.
Nevertheless, Bensch believes there are some broad principles that should apply to every process:
- It doesn’t include unnecessary steps. A complex process doesn’t need to be a complicated one.
- It only collects the data that is necessary for the process itself to function, as well as – if necessary – related processes to function further down the line.
- It provides the people involved in the process with enough context to understand what is expected of them to proceed efficiently with their portion of the process.
- It enables the process to flow seamlessly from person to person to system, across departments, regions and countries if needs be.
- It maintains productivity, cycle times and quality standards.
“Essentially, a great business process is easy to follow, includes clear roles and responsibilities, and provides context to users so they know what is expected of them. Ideally, a digitised process should seamlessly integrate with the company systems containing data relevant to the process, such as ERP and CRM. When done correctly, this approach eliminates the need for people to input data multiple times and into multiple systems and aids in keeping corporate data clean. In addition, the process must be secure and auditable so that each participant in the process is held accountable for their actions”, he adds.
However, this doesn’t mean that so-called “red tape” can or should be eliminated from the process completely. Without excessively complicating administrative procedures, some level of red tape is necessary to maintain checks and balances and ensure that fraud and human error are either prevented altogether or detected before serious damage is done.
“One way to prevent red tape exerting a frustrating stranglehold on productivity and processes from becoming unwieldy is to regularly hold honest conversations about how to improve current processes,” Bensch says.
According to Bensch, processes can become unwieldy when managers and staff members, who don’t have enforced processes to follow, add their own touch to the unenforced processes. People don’t do so maliciously, but rather so that they can complete their own work; unfortunately, most do so with little understanding of what happens outside of their specific task and cause inefficiencies down the line.
Often, these changes become part of the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ routine, which makes them hard to identify. However, there are symptoms that can indicate a problem such as a drop in productivity, decline in revenue, an unhappy team, or an increase in customer complaints about similar things.
But there’s no need to wait for symptoms to appear. Being proactive and conducting annual process reviews can help to locate the pain points and roadblocks, making it possible to update processes where necessary.
“Even if a review doesn’t highlight a problem that requires significant change, it is important to keep a watchful eye out so that remedial steps can be taken before little issues morph into major problems. In addition, if reoccurring issues are detected, then it might be advisable to conduct process reviews more frequently”, he says.
Bensch believes the best way to fix process flaws without disrupting the entire operation is to create a management system to serve as the interface between strategy and structure.
“This is why digitising business processes with business process management (BPM) software is so important. It gets rid of under-utilised paper-based policies and ensures that processes are correctly followed every time, by enforcing control on each field in each step in every process, and every authorisation”.
“When processes are digitised on a BPM platform like FlowCentric Processware, people can no longer change a field or a step on a whim. Changes require more consideration and planning, thereby reducing the risk of processes becoming unwieldy. In addition to improved control, a correctly implemented BPMS makes it easier for the company to identify, and reduce, any problems associated with red tape,” he concludes.