Process Improvement - Visibility

Written by Ian James, Nov 19, 2013

Improving business process visibility is the first step to a more efficient workflow and a more effective team.

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Improving Business Process Visibility

Every business leader knows that process is important to the success of their organization. Without efficient processes, we make mistakes, lose customers and incur avoidable costs. Even worse, we can expose ourselves to unnecessary risk if we fail to comply with regulations. Overall, poor processes are, at best, a recipe for mediocrity.

But, despite their obvious importance, most organizations struggle to master their processes. And as a result they struggle to be successful.

Why is this? What is it about the dynamics of process that makes it inherently difficult to grapple with. And what do companies that are successful with process, do differently? This video is the first in a series of three to look at this issue. In this one, we are going to look at the visibility (or rather - lack of it) of business processes.

Process in Office Work is Invisible

Once we tracked our business processes using paper. But now we use computer systems and databases. And we can’t see the data as easily as we need to. When we used paper there was some level of tangibility. If we could touch it, if we could pile it up on our desk, it was real. In fact, people still like to use paper for that reason. People print stuff out all the time. What they are doing is making it tangible to themselves. Probably why the paperless office has yet to catch on.

So business processes take place under a sort of “Harry Potter like” cloak of invisibility. And because they are invisible, it is hard to see when things go wrong. Or even where we are with any particular transaction. If you have ever sat in a meeting and heard the question “Where are we with…such and such”. You will know what I mean. And it’s hard to communicate what the process is supposed to be when it is all managed by some mysterious server somewhere in the cloud.

Now, the companies that are successful with process find ways to make it visible. They invest in the time and effort it takes to document their processes, capturing what it is they do. One of the principle benefits of this is a shared understanding about process and policies. Improving business process visibility makes it much clearer to find areas to focus on - for example - identifying where improvements might be made in process cycle time. Once things are made visible on a process map, you can decide where you want to go and how to improve things. And that is what allows you to get better and better over time. Just a lot of small incremental changes that compound up into a real competitive edge.

To work consistently and in the long term and not be a passing fad, the expectation of change has to be baked in to the culture of the organization. And that is the subject of the next video, the people side of process improvement.

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