Mapping processes

What Is A Business Process? A Simple Introduction

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A business process is a common term within industry. If you are a regular follower of Saunders & Lee you’ll know that we bang on incessantly about processes for small businesses and startups. Why?

Small businesses don’t need much structure when they start out but as they start to grow chaos can quickly descend. Identifying processes can help businesses grow faster and more efficiently. A 2019 global study by OnePoll, identified that inefficient processes take up nearly a third of employee’s time. Just think of the money a sales person in your company could generate with that extra time!

In order to clear the fog surrounding processes here’s some clarity about what they are, why you need them and how you define them?

What Is A Business Process?

A business processes is like a checklist; a series of steps carried out by key stakeholders to achieve an identified or concrete goal. Each step in the process is assigned to a participant with accountability for completing it.

Business process of making tea

Life is full of processes – take a simple example of making a humble cup of tea. There are set tasks involved in creating this drink and they are both definable and repeatable. Once all the stages involved have been documented anybody will be able to make a successful cup – consistently making it in the same way. A basic analogy I know, but it demonstrates the concept of defining the steps involved in a process.

The Importance of Business Processes

Some clients assume that processes are only relevant for larger organisations. Wrong! Inefficiencies in small businesses will impact your bottom line. This could be through duplication of work, reduction in quality, tedious manual processes taking longer than they should or poor employee productivity. For small businesses the impact of inefficiencies is even greater because they have less room for error.

Rigorous processes make identification of problems easier to detect and reduce the risk of issues existing in your operations for long. If you are serious about growing your business then you need to get serious about documenting business processes. They are baby steps towards more advanced systems of Business Process Management. Ultimately they will cut your operational costs and improve productivity.

Boost Productivity in your business

Where Do You Start?

Documenting business processes does take time – it’s not something you’ll knock out in a couple of hours. Small businesses will struggle to change all their processes at once due to their limited resource capacity. A starting point therefore is to identify the top 10-20 processes that generate most value and prioritise these.

When you have identified your top tier tasks you need to break each one down to identify every step that is involved in successfully making it happen. If we return to the ‘making tea’ analogy – six individual steps have been identified to achieve the end goal.

Business process of making tea

  1. boil kettle
  2. pour water into teabag in the cup
  3. stir the tea
  4. pour in the milk
  5. remove the teabag
  6. drink the tea

Each step can be as simple or powerful as you want but there needs to be a balance between being overburdened with detail for it to be useful. A good process is both comprehensive and well-ordered. Don’t get bogged down with the ‘what ifs’ – stick to the standard way it operates.

How To Set Up A Business Process

Use these steps to help build your processes. We have years of experience in creating processes for small businesses and therefore know that it’s critical to build them up in a disciplined way. That way you ensure they are meaningful and more likely to be positively adopted by your team.

  1. Identify your goal
  2. Distinguish the start and end of each process. What are the preconditions that trigger a process? This could be a purchase order or email being received or a quote being sent. Similarly pinpoint when a process is complete and can be archived.
  3. Define and map the tasks involved in achieving this goal. These are your business processes. We have created a helpful short video which explains the best way to map these workflows.
  4. Create phases to break the process up. This helps identify key milestones when additional members might become involved in the process. Alternatively it could recognise an authorisation point.
  5. Select a system to document and mange your business processes.
  6. Consider all the stakeholders involved in the process – this will help you identify who has input, notifications and approvals.
  7. Set actions and assign stakeholders.
  8. Apply time frames (if appropriate) to ensure that critical milestones are met and measured.
  9. Once the ideal path is mapped out, consider the alternative scenarios. Avoid inflating the process with too many different circumstances as this will make it too cumbersome and difficult to implement. Exceptions can be handled on an individual basis.
  10. Monitor and continually review the processes. Businesses need to ensure their processes can evolve and flex as their business expands.

CRM is used to log business processes to drive efficiencies

Documentation

A business process can be documented in a variety of ways. Best practice is to plot them in software such as Asana, or include them in your CRM. This enables you to flex the processes easily as your business grows, change the owner of a task quickly, or even add how-to videos.

Documenting processes is a tedious job but that’s not an excuse to not do them. Each time you complete a task, jot down the steps that were involved in completing the task and who was involved. It will add a little extra time, but once you’ve finished you will have documented the process for that particular goal. This then needs to be recorded on some software or on an app. How-to videos are a speedy way to populate the processes and can be done as part of your day to day work. Check out this short video on how to arrange this.

Added Benefits

Strong processes will help build trust, in particular with a team in its infancy. A manger can feel out of control if they are supporting a remote team. Robust processes and systems can give structure and discipline and enable the team to feel engaged.

How business processes will help you delegate in business

Business Processes Will Encourage Delegation

Identifying key processes will allow business owners to evaluate how and what to delegate. This raises the question of whether a growing business takes on new staff or opts for outsourcing. There are many reasons for businesses to outsource their processes. Access to specific knowledge, expertise and skill, a growing business and an improvement in cost reduction often coming top of the list. If you feel daunted ACE offer a free course to help businesses identify steps to scale growth.

Business processes mapping

The Difference Between A Business Process And A SOP

Clients often ask us why they need business processes if they already have standard operating procedures (SOPs)?

The difference between a business process and SOPs is in the level of detail. A SOP standardises work functions to ensure that business policies are adhered and met. It is generally wider in scope to direct, and influence, actions and behaviour in line with business policy. A SOP is frequently used to provide information about personnel issues, such as payroll, pensions, organisational charts and policy statements on discrimination and harassment.

A business process uses a magnifying glass to identify each step involved in achieving a set goal or outcome. The checklist includes the trigger point to kick-start the process and the end point when all stages are completed. It itemises each sequential step involved in achieving this milestone, the stakeholder who is responsible for its action and the authorisation points if required.

The identification of components reduces the risk of error, increases productivity and efficiency and facilitates automation. Ultimately it eliminates duplication and boosts sales and growth. Additionally they provide a level of control related to safety and regulatory issues.

Next Steps

It is always easier to implement business processes into your organisation from the off. If you are reading this and are a startup then get these in place now. Don’t despair if you are an established business looking to scale and want to put these in place retrospectively. There are tools available to make this happen and we can help with this.

If this blog has left you gasping deeply into a paper bag – breathe! At Saunders & Lee we love processes and can plot them for you standing on our head. We can ensure that they are set up correctly and in a disciplined fashion.

This is the time to take action. Louise would be delighted to have a chat about how business processes can generate business growth and make you more profitable. Please get in contact to arrange a convenient time for a call.

www.saundersandlee.co.uk – the business outsource consultants

P.S. There are several blogs that we’ve written to help you in your choice of business software: how-to guide to using Asana and organising your business with Trello