Picture a company that has grown rapidly in recent years. It’s likely that its innovative products and friendly service meant it delights customers every time. However, as the business expands geographically, staff have begun to notice problems – from customer complaints about poor service to disputes with suppliers whose invoices are getting paid late. Before these problems get out of hand, the company realizes it needs to focus on process excellence.
If a company experiences repeated problems around customer service, onboarding, payroll, supplier relationships, or HR, it’s usually a sign that it is falling short of process excellence. There are several process improvement methodologies and digital process automation tools that can help fix these problems.
But first, what is process excellence and how can you achieve it?
What is process excellence?
Process excellence is achieved when an organization’s processes are consistent, highly efficient, and have minimal variations or waste. All processes deliver their intended outcomes and work seamlessly together to make the business function as effectively as possible. If a company is achieving process excellence, it can be confident that when a new process kicks off—be that invoice payments, compliance audits, or document management—the process will always be completed as efficiently as possible.
Process excellence is not an end state. Instead, it involves a continual effort to improve how processes are designed and implemented and involves adapting them to shifting circumstances. For example, a staff onboarding process might have been working perfectly in 2019, yet would need to be readjusted for the post-pandemic world of hybrid work. Process improvement, therefore, has to be continuous to achieve this.
The benefits of process improvement
Achieving process excellence provides many obvious benefits. These include:
- Cost savings: If processes are running efficiently, companies can save significant sums of money. For example, in one organization, invoice process improvement reduced the cost of paying each invoice from $12.44 to $4.98 on average.
- Identifies bottlenecks: Using a process improvement methodology such as process mapping allows you to identify where there are bottlenecks in your workflows.
- See the bigger picture: Process automation solutions allow you to visualize how all processes across the organization connect to one another and feed into wider business excellence.
- Onboarding and training: By being able to view your processes mapped out visually, it’s easier for new starters to familiarize themselves with how your company works and where they fit in.
5 ingredients of process excellence
Since process improvement is a continuous activity, organizations must frequently revisit their process maps and reassess them in response to changing circumstances. The following five ingredients will help your organization implement a continuous process improvement culture to help you achieve excellence in the long run:
Ownership and alignment
This is about knowing who is responsible for processes in an organization and defining clear roles. Most organizations have hundreds of processes, yet it is not always clear who is responsible for each one. Unsurprisingly, this means no one feels it’s their job to improve many of your processes.
Example: A minimarket’s logistics manager needs to know which processes they are (and are not) responsible for. Ensuring goods are delivered on time would be an obvious responsibility for this individual. But are they also responsible for managing waste from your stores too? If not, who is responsible for that process?
By completing a process mapping initiative, you can identify all processes in your company, see how they’re connected and allocate responsibility for each process to specific named individuals – eliminating confusion and overlap.
Continuous process improvement
Since processes are always being affected by outside events, you need to continually assess your processes and find areas for improvement.
Example: A technology company has decided to introduce a policy to let employees work remotely as a result of the pandemic. They must therefore update their onboarding processes, remote work request processes and IT processes to ensure that the workflows are still relevant and effective.
Definition, documentation, and understanding
This is about producing written documentation and instructions that create consistency across the board. It needs to be clear how processes are organized and why they are set up the way they are.
Example: An insurance company’s dispute verification processes involve several escalation stages from initial complaint through to resolution. A clear, documented explanation of the protocol and why the organization resolves disputes in this way means that anyone can view it (including auditors) and understand the logic behind each stage in the process.
How easy is it to spot issues in the process? What is the procedure for dealing with these issues? Process excellence requires you to identify process problems and fix them fast.
Example: An experienced finance officer has just joined a fast-growing new startup. He notices there is a lot of manual work involved in managing payments. By implementing process improvement methodologies to streamline payment management, he can identify the problems and introduce solutions.
Technology development and automation
Introducing business process automation software allows companies to automate processes and ensure they are managed more efficiently.
Example: A state school board decides to automate its payroll, onboarding and child protection processes, among other workflows. By using digital tools to manage these workflows, they can boost efficiency and save staff countless hours collecting data or managing approvals.
Intelligent process automation with Nintex Promapp®
Nintex Promapp® is a powerful process improvement tool that allows organizations to map out all their processes to see how they interact with one another. The solution allows you to visualize all your processes and can supercharge your process improvement initiatives.