The global business environment is a hugely competitive one, both in the provision of services and products. Any company looking to thrive has to, on a continuous basis, improve and enhance every stage of its business processes. In doing so, the firm will differentiate itself from the competition, attract clients and add value to its products and services.
The purpose of improving business processes (or BPI – business process improvement) is to meet customer expectations and business objectives in a more efficient manner. Rather than adopting incremental measures, BPI seeks to introduce drastic transformation in a company. In the information technology sector, for example, process improvement techniques aim to address the root causes of system or process deficiencies.
John Hiscocks, a senior design director who has more than three decades of experience in the construction industry, understands the importance of process improvement. He has been involved in developing a business architecture strategy that focuses on situational awareness of the business environment, and later applying a structured approach to capturing an enterprise’s key views. While working for AEW Architects, he helped streamline the company’s business processes, which lead to its emergence as a design-oriented, modern, forward-thinking company.
What’s the Fuss About?
Like many methodologies or approaches, there tends to be an element of mystique surrounding business process improvement. Behind the various techniques and jargon are three simple aspects that a firm has to consider:
- The Purpose. All business processes are taken to achieve a certain all-important goal. The purpose of every process should be clear and fit into the greater business objective.
- The Customer. The only person who can tell if the business is achieving its purpose is the customer.
- Is the Customer Happy? If all processes are focused on meeting the customers’ needs, then you are aligned to meet your goals. The process of improvement simply looks at how to change things to meet customer expectations.
What makes business process improvement hard for many companies is that some don’t have a clear purpose for the process. In such instances, process improvement is made to please varied interests, so that optimisation is done for the wrong purpose.
The process improvement methods employed can be informal or formal and can touch on a number of functions within the company. Regardless of the process being enhanced, the business process improvement cycle follows some basic steps:
- Identify the Need for Improvement
All improvement efforts start from a need, which can be identified through a process audit. The audit helps to identify the issues or risks facing the company and enables management to prioritise the areas ripe for improvement.
- Analyse Current Processes
The processes selected for development have to be thoroughly analysed. This analysis helps to come up with achievable improvement objectives that cater to every step of the process and address any deficiencies.
- Seek Senior Management Support
For business process improvement approaches to sail through, the support and commitment of senior management is essential. The success of the entire process hinges on managerial backing, so you need to present the case for change clearly and convincingly explain how it will impact the firm for the better. It is essential that management understands this need so that their support is guaranteed.
- Develop a Strategy
Developing a process improvement strategy is crucial, as it helps identify the processes that need fixing, provides the why and how of the improvement, and also includes any resource implications. In developing a strategy, set realistic and measurable goals that align with the company’s overall strategic objectives. In this way, every effort will contribute towards the greater good of the business.