We all love to optimize, don’t we? At least I, as an engineer, have an endless desire to optimize, if not an obsession. Given the amount of information we provided and tasks we have that need to be completed in a certain time, I believe we all need optimization for our working lives, especially as entrepreneurs.
How does that differ in organizations? Easy, organizations have more complicated processes which have greater potential to optimize. Those processes depend on different companies, departments, stakeholders, software, and database sources, and the outcome of optimization would have a greater effect on the business itself. 💰
*Alles mit Maß und Ziel! **What gets measured, gets managed.*German Proverb: All with measurement and a goal. **Peter Drucker
What are the signs indicating that you might need process optimization?
Well, it’s not difficult to answer. Do your employees complain about the process? Do your customers are not satisfied with the outcome of the process? Are you using paper, excel, or even Whatsapp for your business processes? Are your costs raising while your productivity is stagnating? Do your processes include a lot of manual work and repetitive tasks? Are the errors and end results of those errors costing you time, resources, and money? Are you tracking your historical data and making use of these data?
The questions above will help you to understand whether you need process optimization. And generally, the answer is yes. The good thing is it’s a continuous improvement process. If you can create a framework and apply it constantly, your company will be more productive 🚀
What is process optimization?
Process optimization is the art of creating better results within the process structure. The optimization might reflect on the business as cost-saving, reduction of resources, increased productivity, increased revenue, increased customer&employee satisfaction, etc. Given the German proverb and Peter Drucker’s quote above, all of the business outcomes below could be measured.
But how to create those outcomes? Various strategies can be applied to almost every process out there. However, we need to have a profound understanding of our process before starting with optimizing. Let’s start with understanding our process, which eventually will give us a framework to apply throughout the company.
Understand Your Process
Now it’s time to take a step back and define your goal and outcome with this process. As every process consists of input(s), necessary tasks&actions in between to provide the desired output(s), integrations between relevant data sources, etc. Therefore it’s crucial to understand the prerequisites before going into visualization. What’s the definition of the process? What are process goals, triggers, and outcomes? Which roles are involved? Who is the Process Owner? Which data&data sources are needed? After those questions, it’s also time to write down existing process Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In addition to that, what would a successful process optimization look like? Write down any expectations and ideal KPIs for this purpose.
As we have understood our process, we can now move on to the visualization. Process mapping, process modeling, process documentation (to some extent) all have a common purpose. To create a visual representation of your process. Multiple tools can help you for this purpose and a whiteboard or a pen and paper. The point is at the end of this step, you should have a visual representation of your process.
Of course, some companies also have some forms of process models and/or documentation ready. They could take their as-is models in this step and detail them further if needed. As of now, we know process trigger, roles, and the outcome, we can lay out tasks and activities in between to create the whole picture. There are different notations to map out the process such as BPMN, EPC, etc. In this blog post, I won’t cover the notation part. 👆
For each task, there should be short definitions and clear task names before we continue. Theoretically, companies should already have those in place. Our goal here is the make sure that the prerequisites are there and up to date.
So, a final version of process visualization should look similar to those.
A typical process optimization would go into the analysis phase, which I will cover in the next step. However, we with 360 Digital Transformation have a different approach. Exactly at this point, we take our time with our clients and think about our clients’ Digital Purpose. How this process fits into digital purpose? Among other processes? Is the process goal aligned with the company’s digital and overall strategy? By reviewing the process in relation to the company’s entire value chain, and other processes within the business unit, we make sure that our upcoming efforts in the analysis phase are in the right direction and would create value for the organization as a whole.
As Inspector Gadget would do: Analyze 🔎
Pro Tip: During the analysis phase, it’s crucial to stay focused on the as-is process, instead of discussing the optimization potentials. Note down every optimization potential and keep on analyzing the as-is process.
Or like a doctor, looking at the MRI results, you should start inspecting. It might be wise to ask those questions to get insights;
- Which stages are delayed? (Why?)
- Which tasks take the most time? (Why?)
- Can any decision rules apply? Are the existing rules up to date?
- Which steps have changed?
- Which tasks or actions are not needed anymore? (Which steps don’t provide value?)
- Can we mine the data using process mining and get data-driven insights?*
- Are there any manual tasks? Any repetitive tasks?
- Are there any exceptions, or roll-back situations?
- Which are the co-related processes?
- Should process KPIs reflect meaningful values?
*Having said that, if you have data to reflect on, it would yield better results to understand optimization points. We could also use Process Mining as a method to extract data for analysis, but I will explain Process Mining in another blog post.
I bet you have collected valuable insights by asking the questions above. Now it’s time to combine all the optimization potentials together, re-evaluate them, identify & re-design decision criteria and decide on automation possibilities. As we have done in the previous step, it’s a good point to reflect on the digital purpose and strategy. Before prioritizing the potentials and re-designing the process, we should make sure that our direction is still in compliance with our digital strategy, adding value to the company as a whole as well as to the business unit where the process belongs.
Now it’s the most exciting part. We are ready to redesign the process. From the business perspective, we can start with prioritizing optimization potentials about business outcomes. It’s also the time to choose relevant technologies and tools to digitalize (if not yet) and automate some tasks and actions. What’s very important in this step is to include the stakeholders (process roles) to get their feedback and then implement the redesigned process quickly. By keeping the incremental implementation in short cycles (i.e. sprints), we make sure that our optimization goals are being realized and reflected in the business outcome (measured by our new KPIs).
It’s crucial to have a platform that enables, testing and revising live versions without harming the current process instances. The change should be like multiple Formula 1 Pit-Stops, the necessary changes made with the least amount of actual process stopped.
We do suggest creating a Proof of Concept (POC) before scaling the solution or optimization project. Like in rapid prototyping of a manufacturer, process optimizations could be quickly realized and implemented. And the results reflected in the business outcomes.
Do I need a framework for this?
I assume that’s a rhetorical question. Therefore I would suggest using the framework suggested above. If you want a free process optimization template, you can find it here.
My processes are already very efficient. Why should I optimize my processes?
This question is something I’m used to hearing. The same applies to digital transformation, we are already world leaders at what we are doing. Why should we digitalize? And I answer with another question. Indeed, you are a world/market leader. You have great products, patents, etc. Do you invest in Research and Development (R&D)? Then the first question is also automatically answered. Successful companies chase optimization in their products, why not apply the same strategy to their infrastructure i.e. business processes?
How automation is connected to optimization?
Automation is one of the options when it comes to process optimization. It’s not a must but a should. However, we approach the process with an automation first mindset, we won’t only be freeing up resources from the tasks and actions, we will also have the opportunity to give those resources meaningful tasks. Let’s assume that your employees have to copy values from the legacy systems and paste them into Excel or vice versa. If we can automate this manual task, this employee can be assigned to more meaningful work, like talking with clients and creating value for them, feeling himself&herself better (let’s admit that we all hate copy-paste work), and the company will also benefit from those outcomes. 🏆
How we can help?
You can feel free to run process optimization projects within your company. We also provide templates and material to support his. However, it’s too difficult to think innovative and out of the box about your daily work. We all are so busy with our daily tasks, we generally oversee the optimization potentials.
Getting expert help can only do better if you first create value before scaling up. Therefore we have designed the 360 Process Workshop for you. We go through your chosen process during this one-day workshop and give you a tangible should-be model, where you can even apply yourself.
I hope this blog post helps you to understand the basics of process optimization and encourages you to start optimizing. NOW!
Can Adiguzel is the founder of 360 Digital Transformation and host of The Digital Mittelstand podcast. He is in Digital Transformation projects for more than 8 years. He is passionate about Digital Transformation for Mittelstand and helps Mittelstand to overcome their Digital Transformation challenges by optimizing, digitalizing, and automating processes.