Process – What Is It?

Process, system, and procedure are words we often confuse with each other.  But to use ISO 9000s and Oxford definitions:
  • A process is a set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs
  • A procedure is a specified way to carry out an activity or a process
  • A system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done
We use processes every day, whether it be cooking the dinner or getting ready to go to work.  And we update them to fit our lifestyle goals.  Goal is a bit of an unusual term to use when discussing cooking the dinner but there is always an end result that you are working towards.  For me personally, my goal is usually that it comes out fully cooked and that my 3 year old eats it!
To use cooking dinner as an example process, you could use tools like a food processor to save time on food preparation, or you may use a spray cooking oil to be a bit healthier.  You might just outsource the cooking to a restaurant or a takeaway.  In any event, you change the process to suit you and your family for that day.
Why Review Your Processes
We look to improve our day to day processes regularly, to get a better result for our end goal.  Maybe that goal is to save time, or maybe it’s to be more accurate.
So why do we treat our business administration processes differently?  Why do we review these less frequently, or in some cases not at all?  I noticed this was the case many years ago during my employed days.  Processes seemed to only be reviewed when there was a trigger of some sort.  An example would be that a client wasn’t happy or a member of staff had left so we were low on resources.  We were always so busy (I used to use that word a lot!) doing our daily tasks to even think about the bigger picture.  Eventually the business I worked for employed a new member of staff with process improvement as their main task.  I was lucky enough to work on this huge task for the company, and it really did change the business a lot very quickly.
How Do I Review a Process?
Firstly, you need to identify the tasks and users of this process. If this process is carried out with any other people, whether that is an employee, a freelancer, a member of your family, you need to consult with them to ensure you understand their part fully.
Once you have all the information on how it all fits together, you need to map it out so you can see it.  This can be done as a flow chart, or can be bullet pointed list, or you may be someone who uses a post it note for each step on a whiteboard.  It really is personal preference.  What is the best way to show you how something works, so that you can visualise the steps involved, the time it takes and who does them?
If you have other people working with you, try to find out:
  • How do they carry out each task (in as much detail as possible)?
  • Why do they carry out the task in that way?
  • Where are their pain points with the task?
  • How can it be improved from their perspective?
Once you have these answers, you may identify some quick wins.  I have known of companies where their entire invoicing process can stop if one person is not at work.  This is a vital task that can be sorted out easily if  knowledge of the process was shared and/or there is a written guide to support them.  The answer doesn’t always have to be more software or more expenditure.
Process Optimising
Once you have a map/diagram/chart/list of how the parts fit together, have a look at it objectively.  If other people are involved in the process, did their contributions surprise you?  Does the time allocated to each task seem reasonable?  Don’t forget to look at it from the viewpoint of a client/customer or a supplier, are there changes that can be made that would enhance their experience of working with you?  If you had a trigger to do this review, (e.g. a potential client backed out of a deal because the sign up process was too time consuming) think about what you are trying to achieve with this in mind.
Look at each task in the process individually and think:
  • Can it be delegated or outsourced elsewhere?
  • Can it be automated?
  • How much does this task cost you? Can you save time and money on the task by amending it?
  • Are there ways to improve accuracy?
There will be some obvious answers when you have looked at it objectively.  If, in the unlikely event, nothing jumps out as needing improving and everyone is happy with how the process works, that’s great!  A process review may just confirm that you are working as effectively as possible.
Documenting a Process
Whether your process has been changed or not, it needs to be recorded.  Again, you may have a preference on how to document this.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Write it down in a shared document that shows each task in full, how it is done and who does it.  You can do this in Office 365 or Google Docs
  • Create a flow chart or graphic using Microsoft Visio and save it in a shared location
  • Create boards on Trello to show the information and share it with colleagues
  • Record the task being done and keep the videos in a shared location
  • Do a checklist/table using a shared workspace like Evernote
Remember to record the date on these so you know how up to date the process is.  You can also use these for training existing or new members of your team.  If you are changing many processes at once, it may be worth implementing the processes one by one.  You could use the new process on a trial basis before fully committing to it.  It really depends on you, your business, your goals and the changes you are making.
Review the Process
Once you have completed a review, your processes are fit for purpose.  However, it is a good idea to set a time frame for when you intend to review them again.  How often would you realistically think a review would be required?  For some businesses, 6 months would be far more frequent then necessary, whereas some may need this to make sure everyone is adhering to it.
I would love to know how often you review your admin processes, and how you are doing it.  If the idea of doing it yourself is too daunting of a task, why not book in a call to see how we can support you?

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