5 Ways To Streamline Your Business and Improve Workflow
Lean consultants charge a fortune to give you advice on how to run your business with less wasted time, energy, materials, people and effort. Fortunately, there are a number of straightforward methods you can employ to simplify your business that do not require spending a lot of money or hoping the consultant understands how your business works. Here are five easy ways to streamline your business and improve workflow:
Know Your Flow For Almost Everything
The simplest way to start streamlining your process is to map existing business processes. How do customers place an order, and what happens as it is processed and fulfilled? How are new employees hired, on-boarded and trained for their roles? What is the standard HR process for performing performance reviews? By learning the flow of your operations, you can learn if there are different ways of completing these tasks, and you can standardize them per the best process. If the process is long and convoluted, you can look for ways to streamline the process. Once it is streamlined, formally publish the new, improved procedure to your team and ensure they are trained in it.
You don’t have to detail every exception and variation of the official procedure. In fact, formalizing how the exceptions are handled can make the process overly complicated. The only time exceptions and variations need to be fully documented is when there is a significant cost, legal liability or risk if it isn’t handled right. And even if this is true, you should have a formal and approved process for front line workers saying, “This is too complicated for me, here’s who I escalate this issue to for resolution. That person has the authority to take care of it.”
Determine The Mission Critical Processes – Then Improve Them
Identify which processes are mission critical to your business’ core process. How you onboard new employees is important, but it isn’t as important as how you deliver the core services that make up 80% of your profits, or 80% of your volume. These are the processes that you want to streamline and simplify so that they are delivered quickly and perfectly every time.
Study how the processes are currently handled, including the exceptions and “off-ramps”. Collect information so you understand the average cycle time and variation in each step. Seek input from your team on how to improve these processes. Perform root cause analysis to identify the causes of errors and delays so you can eliminate them. Always document the new processes and the metrics regarding them so you can make data driven decisions for the next round of improvements or can monitor the operations to see if people later revert back to older, slower ways.
Adopt Integrated IT Solutions
A few years ago, defense contractor Raytheon found that by having each business division or even work site use a different product data management system, they were wasting tens of millions of dollars per year on redundant functions. It saved more than $50 million a year by moving to PDMLink as its data repository and data management tool.
Your company can save money, too, by shifting to one tool instead of using different software tools for separate functions in IT. An iPaaS cloud integration platform, for example, integrates your ecommerce site with inventory management, business reporting, planning tools, and even sales professional management tools through integration with Salesforce.
Adopting data management systems with integrated document workflow management software can simplify the workload for your data managers and configuration managers. Inform the team when new procedures are uploaded, automatically have configuration managers emailed when they need to check new drawings or tell purchasing that the specifications for an assembly have changed.
Use centralized data repositories with access control so that everyone accesses information in one location, but only authorized individuals can change them. This has the side benefit of letting someone send a link to the latest and greatest version of the file without the problem of sending a file back and forth as it is being edited and having someone potentially working off of an obsolete version.
Automate As Much As Possible
When we talk about automation, most people expect a discussion of robots. While this applies to improvements in many manufacturing facilities, in this article, we’re talking about business process automation. Use customer relationship management software to capture customer information and then systematically email them as they place orders, subscribe to newsletters, cancel purchases or update their preferences.
Automate your social media marketing, with some human supervision, to post a slow, steady stream of content marketing pieces to social media profiles. The beauty of many of these automated tools is how they automatically collect data for you. Use it to run A/B testing with different marketing messages, email headers and salutations to learn the ideal message to use for each customer segment.
You can streamline your business and improve workflow by saying no more often. One classic case is the snow cone kiosk. When taking time to make fancy blue cones with red zig zag stripes per one picky customer’s request, several more customers wait longer than necessary and two go off to get ice cream instead. By saying no to that customer and offering the standard blue or red snow cones instead, you can serve more people who will be happy because you’re serving them faster.
Know what you do well and do it well, declining most special requests and rejecting most new ideas so you don’t take away from your core competency. Knowing your core competency and refusing to accept projects outside of your main mission prevents you from taking time and resources away from what you do best. A chicken restaurant may start selling its homemade sauce in stores to make extra money, but making burgers hurts the chicken restaurant chain.
Know the standard flow of your major business processes. Determine which business processes are mission critical, and then work to improve them. Adopt integrated IT solutions that minimize the wasted time, effort and money of using many different IT systems. Automate as much as possible with these tools, and use the information for data driven decisions. Say no to products and services that are too far from your core competencies or that simply aren’t profitable.