Sometimes it’s how you do it, not what you do!

Nov 14, 2012   //   by Joel   //   Blog Posts, Leadership  //  View Comments

Let’s start with a story

Several years ago, a husband and wife nearing retirement age had moved away from the city and decided they needed to find a form of income to augment their savings into retirement. The husband had a passion for doing his family tree, and as a result of this passion had amassed a very large database of genealogical information in his years of research. They decided to start a company using this as a basis.

They created everything about the business using only the knowledge they had, which was very technologically limited. They created a membership based business model which would allow them to leverage this ever growing database of family histories. However, being that they were limited in their knowledge of how to put technology to work for them they ended up working very hard, but not very smart.

Processing one membership application would take upwards of 10 hours per member. How could this take so long? The answer was quite simple, process.

While this amount of time per member was not completely daunting when they were small, as their business grew, it became nearly crippling to actually getting anything accomplished.

This is where I came in. The reality of these people had become a mountain of work that never ceased growing. Their own success was starting to affect their quality of life as they never had a chance to turn work off.

A complete top to bottom assessment of their company allowed us to answer key questions:

  • What are the goals and objectives of the business itself?
  • What is the purpose of the business?
  • Who are their customers?
  • What strategic improvements need to be made?
  • What technological improvements need to be made?
  • What processes should be improved, eliminated, or created to ensure maximum efficiency and profitability?

The solutions that we came up with were quite in depth, involving addition of labour, creation of custom technology to support their business and manage their processes, as well as the introduction of KPIs and other metrics to know when key areas of their business need attention.

In the end, this husband and wife team now have a chance to enjoy some time that is not completely overwhelmed by their business and they continue to grow month after month at staggering rates.

How long does it take to process a member now on average? 37 minutes. Compare that to the 10 hours it took before and you can appreciate what sort of impact these improvements had on their business, and on their lives.

Does my business even have processes? I don’t manufacture anything!

A process is defined as:

A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers.

Business Process

For anyone in the scientific or engineering fields, the concept of a process is standard practice. In business, it’s generally less understood as most resources are organized by function. A process simply operates across those functions.

Here is an example of a process that most people can easily relate to. A customer calls a house painting service for a quote on having their home painted. The painter arrives to survey the job, does their measurements, assists the customer in picking colors and leaves to prepare their quote. A quote is calculated and given to the customer. When the customer agrees the job, the work is scheduled, the house is painted, an invoice is submitted, the invoice is paid, the painter revisits the customer, asking if they’re happy with the work and asked if they know anybody else who’s thinking of having their house painted.

This is a process. It’s referred to as a “First Call to Referral process”.

So yes, every business has a process. It may not be clearly defined, thought through, written out, optimized or what have you, but it’s still a process. It has been said that the mere act of writing down a process will improve its efficiency by 10% simply because you are mindfully walking through the steps taken and optimizing it as you pen it.

Signs you may need Business Process Improvement

For example, some signs of broken processes may be:

  • Poor communication
  • Having to do the same work repeatedly (Rework)
  • Too many handoffs
  • Duplicate data entry
  • Duplication of effort
  • Takes too long, but difficult to understand why
  • Customers need to find ways around the process to get to the desired outcome
  • Getting a valid status update is difficult
  • Costs are hard to control
  • Time estimates are rarely correct

Needing improvement is NOT failure!

Recognizing the need for process improvement does not mean you’ve failed, are a poor leader, or that you should take the it internally for any reason. Businesses constantly need to improve, adapt and grow in order to compete in today’s market. By creating a culture of improvement within your company you are teaching your people that change is good, that improvement is good and to never settle for the status quo if they can see a better way. Last but not least, your customers will benefit from improvements, and your customers are your life blood.

About Joel:
Joel brings a seasoned perspective to his work, highly focused on tailored and sustainable solutions for his clients. With nearly 20 years of professional experience specializing in SMB (Small and Medium Business), Joel has an innate ability to see through a business' problems and find customized solutions that work for them.
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