Are Your Business Processes Clear Enough?
When you document a business process, you need to include everything so that anyone who looks at it can understand how the task should be carried out.
But as we go about documenting, we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.
The secret to success with business practices is clarity. If a process is too complicated and unclear, it can be difficult to interpret.
Your processes should include all the essentials of the workflow, and only those essentials. They should be as pared down as possible.
A business process should never have more than about nine steps, although there are some exceptions.
The ideal number of steps is five to seven.
Many processes will have exceptions. There may be some variable that will prevent the next step from being possible.
For example, when performing a certain task, there might be an error message. The user then has to perform troubleshooting, and there’s another process for that.
In this case, move the troubleshooting out of the process and create its own separate process. Instead of adding this to the original process, you can put a note directing the user to the troubleshooting process, should they need it.
The result is that your diagram looks cleaner and is easier to understand.
Your goal is to create documentation where someone can see at a glance what they need to do.
Business owners are often too close to their work to create clear process documentation. For this reason, you should get feedback from others to make sure everything is as clear as possible.
Ask a few people to examine each process. These can be employees who are familiar with the task or others who have on background knowledge.
Refine until it’s easy to grasp.
How To Map Out Your Business Processes
When documenting your business process, it’s more efficient to map them out visually than with step-by-step text. The most basic way to visually represent them is using flow charts.
A flow chart lays out the steps for completing a task connected by arrows that lead you from one step to the next. It visually represents the flow of a task in a way that’s easy to understand at a glance.
The steps are represented by shapes which can be coded by shape type. For example, a square is a task; a circle is an event; a triangle is a point where stakeholder decisions must be made.
Flow charts work well for many tasks, but some are too complex. If you put an overly complex task into a flow chart, it will have so many arrows going so many directions that it defeats the purpose, which is to make the process easy to digest.
One variation is the swimlane chart. This type of chart shows the process in the same way but divides it into “lanes” or columns.
For example, columns might represent who performs the task; they might be for customer service, supplier, customer, etc.
The customer asks a question, which is answered and routed by a customer service representative to tech services, which troubleshoots and then gets management approval before sending it back to customer service.
In this chart, you would see the shapes moving between the four parties involved: the customer, customer service, tech services, and management.
Each party can easily identify their role in the process.
For larger and more complex projects, you can use a Gantt chart. This chart shows a timeframe horizontally and step of the process vertically.
Then, there are blocks that show when a part of the process is finished.
This might be used for an information product launch where you have to plug in market research, planning, outlining, creating, marketing, launch, and follow up over a long period of time.
When mapping out business processes, start with a flow chart and if you feel your needs aren’t met, choose a more complex model.
How To Organize Your Business Processes
Documenting your business processes not only helps you make them more efficient, it also allows you to offer them to new employees for easy onboarding and training.
The end goal should be to create a library of your business processes that’s available at any time to anyone who needs it.
But how exactly do you organize your business processes?
The best practice is to categorize them so that anyone can find what they need at any given time.
There’s no one “right” way to categorize your business processes. Start by considering what someone would search for if they were looking for a certain process.
For example, if you were looking for documentation on closing the fiscal year, you might search for “accounting” or “finance.”
You might categorize by department if you have a large organization. Departments could include sales, marketing, legal affairs, executive class, or customer service.
You may want to put someone in charge of managing processes as a “head librarian.” Everything should be easily searchable, but this person can serve as an authority on where things are located.
The best possible scenario is to create a searchable database to store all processes where they can be organized by category and tags.
When someone needs a certain process, they can search by keyword and choose what they’re looking for.
Tags could be things like “sales,” “financial,” “reporting,” and so on.
Make sure your processes are available to anyone who needs them, but also restricted from those who don’t. This is confidential business data that should be shared on a need-to-know basis only.
It’s important to start thinking about this before you start documenting your business processes. It’s much easier to plug them into your database system as you go along than to organize all at once later.
How To Perform a Time Audit and Keep It Simple
Performing a time audit is an important step in streamlining business processes, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.
There are just three simple steps:
- Log your time
- Analyze the results
Decide what you want to improve
The first thing to decide is how long you’ll log your time.
If you perform the same tasks each day, you can monitor over a few days and get a good sense of where your time goes.
For example, keep track of your daily activities for one week or, for better results, two weeks. The longer you log, the more accurate your data will be.
If you have weekly tasks or things you don’t do on a daily basis, you may want to monitor longer, such as several weeks or months.
The second decision is how you’ll monitor your time.
The simplest way is to use pen and pencil. Write down the time you start and end each task. Later, you can go through and total it up.
An even simpler idea is to set a kitchen timer when you start each task and write down the time when you finish.
If you’d prefer to use an online tool, there are apps and software programs that will make it even easier for you. They can also deliver customized data.
Write down everything you do, even things that seem insignificant like checking emails or taking breaks. You may not use this data, but it could come in handy.
When you analyze the results, you’ll see how much time you spend on each task on average. There will definitely be some surprises.
Start your analysis by creating your ideal schedule. Decide how long you’d like to spend performing each task, then compare this with your actual data. This will help you allocate your time better.
Ready To Start Streamlining Your Next Business Process?
After you streamline your first business process, you’ll start seeing results immediately. Now, it’s time to choose the next process you’ll improve.
You’ve already mapped out one process and you know the results it gets, so you’ll be able to more easily identify another good candidate.
Make a list of all the processes currently in place in your business and identify the one that needs improvement most.
As you did before, look for the process that will have the greatest positive impact on your business if improved.
Identify processes that are dragging, taking a great deal of time, or that you think are inefficient.
You may also choose the process that has the greatest potential to increase profits.
If your main goal in documenting business processes is onboarding and training, look for the task that would make this training easier or more efficient.
As you go through your list, keep your eyes open for tasks you can delegate or outsource.
Seek feedback from your team or business partners as well to see if they have other ideas.
Documenting business processes is a process in itself, so it’s something you should develop a flow for.
If you’re overhauling your business and documenting everything, create a calendar and schedule for going through each, department by department. The more you can systematize, the more efficient and accurate the process will be.
During this project, think about how you’d like your business to operate. Construct an ideal functioning for each area of your business and as you document, you’ll see where you need to improve.
Do you want to learn more about improving your business processes? Our Business Templates Guide can help. Check out our other products that can help you achieve your business goals.