The American economist W. Edwards Deming once said: “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
In the same way, school teachers often have a litmus test to determine if you understood what you were taught. “If you get it, then you can teach it,” they would explain.
What Deming and your teachers said also rings true in the world of business. Projects at work are not meant to be approached blindly. By and large, they should be purposely understood, planned, and executed using a systematic process. The goal is to document every step of the way so that later on, you can refer back to the project as either a model for success or a lesson learned.
In this article, we will discuss process flow and how this concept boosts efficiency and keeps your business running in tip-top shape. We will also examine how companies can implement an effective process flow and overcome potential challenges along the way.
What is process flow?
Steps 1, 2, 3, and beyond. Although they look like any ordinary list of instructions, these sequential steps actually make up the process flow in business. When it comes to work, companies delegate and organize tasks using this very concept. In essence, a process flow includes all the steps needed to accomplish a certain task or goal, along with several stages, activities, and decision points.
Let’s familiarize ourselves with some key elements, as these work together to allow for a smooth and efficient workflow:
- Inputs: The resources, information, or materials required to initiate a process, which vary depending on the task at hand. While manufacturing processes require raw materials and equipment, IT processes need specified requests for support.
- Activities: The specific tasks or actions that need to be completed to move the process forward. These can range from simple and repetitive to more complex ones that involve multiple steps. In customer service, your staff may engage in activities like answering customer inquiries and resolving complaints. On the other hand, the IT department will probably need to come up with incident responses and security deployment plans.
- Decision points: The points in the process where choices need to be made based on predetermined criteria. Think of them as a fork in the road. Whatever decision you make can impact the direction and outcome of the process. In project management, some common decision points are selecting a vendor and reallocating resources.
- Outputs: The desired results or deliverables of the process, such as a finished product, completed report, or resolved client issue. Your process flow and outputs are directly proportional; the higher the quality of the process flow, the better the outputs.
- Feedback loops: The mechanisms through which information on the process performance is captured. These loops let you gather data, analyze performance metrics, and flag areas of concern. Always use them to make a better process.
How does efficiency relate to process flow?
Efficiency is a critical factor in business success. Companies with an efficient process flow often enjoy the benefits of minimal waste, zero unnecessary steps, and fewer bottlenecks. This goes hand in hand with better productivity, as the time and effort needed to complete a task are reduced.
Let’s imagine that a manufacturing firm is producing a complex product. If the process flow is poorly designed, the company may have to backtrack more than once and contend with redundant steps. While this may not seem like the biggest deal, an inefficient process flow leads to delays, increased costs, and unsatisfied customers. On the other hand, an effective process flow boosts your productivity by ensuring that each step seamlessly transitions into the next.
How to implement an effective process flow
Putting an effective process flow into place is no cakewalk, as it requires careful planning and execution. Let’s explore the steps it takes to establish a streamlined workflow.
1. Analyze your current process flow
Begin by thoroughly analyzing your existing process flow from start to finish. Ask any employees directly involved in this process to review the key tasks, decision points, and handoffs, as this makes it easier to uncover any bottlenecks or inefficiencies. Then, you can talk to your customers for feedback on areas for improvement.
Also, be sure to use process mapping techniques (e.g., flowcharts and swimlane diagrams) to visualize everything. It can be a bit intimidating to stare down at pages upon pages of raw data, so a diagram can shed light on where steps can be deleted or combined for efficiency.
2. Design an optimized process flow
Based on the analysis of your current process flow, you’ll need to design an optimized version that is simple but clear. Think of it like writing a final essay in school. While each body paragraph has its own argument and supports the thesis, your steps should have a clear purpose and align with the overall business objectives. You would want your professor to follow along when reading your paper. Similarly, you need your employees to understand the process flow if they are going to do their work properly.
During this stage, feel free to ask your staff, clients, and investors for their input. Brainstorming together ensures that the new process flow meets everybody’s needs, which is essential as it will eventually be implemented on a company-wide basis.
3. Implement the new process flow
It’s time to put your optimized process flow into action. Remember to communicate the changes to all employees, customers, and investors involved. Because this is entirely new compared to your old workflow, make sure everybody knows how their responsibilities have been impacted.
In addition, it’s vital to create a supportive environment during this final phase. Encourage people to speak up if they have questions or doubts, and hold meetings to address any misconceptions. You can even provide workshops and additional resources to show your team that you care about how they adapt to the new process flow.
Tips to monitor and improve your process flow
Implementing an effective process flow is like building a relationship with your customers. It takes lots of effort and self-reflection on your part. Be sure to use these techniques to gain some insight into how your process flow is doing and how you can make it better:
- Key performance indicators (KPIs): Establish relevant metrics to measure process performance and compare them against established benchmarks. For example, your business could monitor lead time, turnaround time, customer satisfaction, and errors.
- Regular reviews: Conduct periodic reviews of the process flow and get feedback from employees and customers. Getting an outside opinion offers an unbiased view of how you’re doing in actuality, not how you hope you’re doing.
- Data analysis: Analyze real-time data to flag any deviations or inefficiencies in the workflow. You can bring up these developments to your team and plan accordingly.
How to get past challenges during implementation
Rolling out a new process flow isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Occasionally, you may run into some obstacles and become stuck on how to proceed. Here are some of the most common issues, along with ways to overcome them:
- Resistance to change: Having grown accustomed to the usual way of doing things, your staff may express skepticism at trying out a new process flow.
- Solution: Explain the reasons for the change and how it is more beneficial than the status quo. Train employees to ease their transition into the new process.
- Lack of resources: A new process flow means that you may need to purchase new technology and hire more staff, which is a tall order for companies with a limited budget.
- Solution: Redistribute resources within the budget. If necessary, begin a change management approach, where key stakeholders can provide extra support.
- Complexity: An overly complex process flow can be difficult for employees to understand and cause even more frustration.
- Solution: Keep the process short and simple. You can even pilot the new process flow on a smaller scale before distributing it to the entire company. Allow your employees to be a part of this testing so that they can see what the workflow will look like.
Use Wrike to enhance business efficiency
Ready to work on your project step by step by using an optimized process flow? With Wrike, you can visualize and manage your process flows effectively, streamline your operations, and drive your business growth.
We offer a comprehensive set of features designed to steer your company onto the right path. These include:
- Automated workflows to keep processes running smoothly
- Dashboards to view ongoing progress
- Project resource planning to distribute team resources efficiently
See how Wrike can transform your process flow — start your free trial today.
Note: This article was created with the assistance of an AI engine. It has been reviewed and revised by our team of experts to ensure accuracy and quality.