Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Ellen Williams, @Ellen_NY_B2B. Ellen is a Business Process Management Expert. She has spent 25 years consulting with businesses of all sizes on their processes and identifying what technologies best support them. Through both business analysis and data analysis, she creates plans that improve processes (manual and automated) to streamline systems. In today’s multi-function business environment, she recommends solutions around efficiency, ease-of-use, and the right tool for the job! For more information thedatachick.com
SmallBizLady: What is the first step in developing business processes?
Ellen Williams: The first step in developing the process is to understand your goal or desired result. You can take a big-picture item, such as marketing, or a more specific item, such as creating invoices. Both of these are important and developing processes on how to accomplish them will help streamline your day. Processes have steps, responsibilities, value, and consequences, so be sure your goal is worthy of the effort of developing a process as well as executing it.
SmallBizLady: How many people should be involved in developing business processes?
Ellen Williams: Some processes require multiple people, including representatives from several departments, assistants, clients, and vendors, to name a few. If everyone involved is part of the development, you’ll have a better chance that everyone will adhere to the process. This may not be an option in larger organizations, as decision-makers typically develop the processes and pass them down to the tactical people who will execute them.
SmallBizLady: How can you avoid bottlenecks in developing business processes?
Ellen Williams: Good processes require multiple people; otherwise you run the risk of bottlenecks. When just one person is busy and puts off their part of the process, it stops. When the process stops, things get backlogged and sometimes deadlines are missed. Regardless of the goal of the process, the business loses either time or money, or both! Before creating any process, you need to consider who is involved and how their workload will affect the process and the results. If you do run into bottlenecks, find out why and make a change. Either remove the person from the process or reduce their workload if they are important to the process. Bottlenecks create stress for everyone.
SmallBizLady: How should you measure the results of a process?
Ellen Williams: The results of any process should be something that moves the business forward. When the process is completed successfully, things run smoothly. Whether it’s getting the invoicing done and to the clients/customers, creating marketing content so it’s ready to post, or making follow-up phone calls that either clarify information or allow you to continue important conversations, the process results should have a positive effect on the business.
SmallBizLady: What are the consequences of not following business processes?
Ellen Williams: Some processes are vital, and the consequences for not following them are very high. Things “fall through the cracks” when processes break down. Depending on the results you expect from the process, the consequences could be dire. Emergency healthcare personnel understand the importance of following a process. They have been developed to issue the best care as quickly as possible. If any step in the process is skipped, or missed, people may suffer increased injury.
SmallBizLady: How many steps are too many steps when developing businesses processes?
Ellen Williams: The best processes are streamlined, but that doesn’t mean they are short. Long processes that require many steps can ensure things are done right. I’ll bet NASA has some lengthy processes because there is a lot at stake. Small businesses also have a lot at stake. When developing processes, make sure to talk through and walk through all the necessary steps to get the job done to the result you desire. Spending time in process development will help you gain time in process execution. There’s no need to overcomplicate a process, but trying to get through it quick is not the right approach either.
SmallBizLady: How much of your business processes can you automate?
Ellen Williams: Technology is a great tool to help processes move along. When you have the opportunity to utilize the functionality of any system to execute a workflow, do it. When processes are manual there is always the possibility of human error. Leveraging automation can bypass human interaction with the process and reduce the potential for errors. Marketing automation, machine learning, and AI are great examples of allowing technology to be instrumental in the process. Additionally, workflows can be built in many different technologies that create alerts, run and distribute reports, and identify numeric differences that need attention.
SmallBizLady: How should you validate the process?
Ellen Williams: Validation is important to ensure several things—that the process is running as planned, and the desired results are being accomplished. Everyone involved in a process needs to take responsibility for their roles, and there should be checks and balances built-in to help the process run smoothly. For example, a data-cleansing process where someone double-checks email addresses prior to any messages being sent should have a step to communicate is has been completed. A simple checkbox on the contact record could be checked when the email is correct. This action is part of the process and validates the information.
SmallBizLady: How do you evaluate if the process makes sense?
Ellen Williams: The order of the steps in your process should be logical, and flow from the first to the last. If the process involves multiple people, possibly across multiple departments, the information in the first step should easily lead to the second step, and so on. If there’s any “double-back” steps (other than those needed for validation), repetitive steps, or the need for the same person to be involved at different steps of the same process, it may need revamping. Just because you designed a process doesn’t always mean you got it right. Sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board!
SmallBizLady: How easy is it to train someone to be part of the process?
Ellen Williams: Processes outlive personnel. Be sure that onboarding new people to the process is easy. You shouldn’t have to be working in your organization for a long time in order to understand the process. Every process in your business should have a logical path from one person, or task, to the next. When someone new asks, “Why are we doing it this way?” your answer can’t be, “because we’ve always done it this way.” If you ever hear yourself say this, it’s time to re-evaluate the process.
SmallBizLady: How and where should things be documented?
Ellen Williams: In order to train anyone on a process, you need to be able to reference all the steps. You should also consider diagraming the process, as visuals are an effective way to clearly understand the process. Be sure to document all the steps in simple terms, and if technology is involved, screenshots should be included in the documentation. Lastly, be sure the documents are named appropriately (you should have a file-naming process too), and it’s stored in a location that is easily accessible to everyone who needs to reference it.
SmallBizLady: Who is responsible for making sure processes happen once developed?
Ellen Williams: Besides validation steps within a process, people need to be responsible, and accountable, for processes within an organization. Remember, anything that has a process should be something important to your business as it moves it forward. Executives need to be responsible for the business to be running smoothly, and anyone in a management position should oversee processes on a regular basis. Having a process and the documentation does not guarantee that people will follow the steps.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
For more tips on how to start or grow your small business, subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.