5 pieces of advice on how to choose the most effective tools for business processes optimization
Zero step — make sure that you have things to optimize ;) Seriously, a massive percentage of clients who roll out a request for business process optimization does not have a clearly outlined production process. The reason they cannot choose needed tools is not connected with their inability to find them mechanically, but with the absence of understanding that they need to track the performance of the workflow process.
Therefore, I would primarily like to emphasize the stage that is the foundation of any optimization tool identification. It involves the definition of the tasks to be solved with the help of such tools. This step is not optional as without a clear understanding of tasks and workflow in general, no tool is effective.
Advice №1. Define the workflow
Before taking up decisive actions regarding selecting and implementing new tools, it’s required to analyze your workflow and define its main stages. The most effective way is to ask several key questions, and received questions will spark correct conclusions. The questions can be along the following lines: Do the task assignees change as the project goes? Is the interaction with the clients performed? At what stages does the process sag, that is, it gets out of your or management’s hand? Why does it happen? etc.
Likewise, the whole workflow needs your analyses and rethinking.
Let’s look at the example: you will systematically prolong time limits for a client. The logical assumption is that business processes optimization with the help of online tools can fix this problem. This is likely to be true. Online tools and clarity can either fix this issue or reveal the real one (if it differs from the one you primarily outlined).
And in the second case, we require a more systematic approach: if the time limits are prolonged, the first thing needed is to divide the workflow into assignees and stages. And not only define it, but also note. Now we can proceed to time logging or automatized terms fixation implementation. If there are control or audit points for a particular stage (e.g. testing, internal approval, or quality control), they are to be fixed separately.
You will thus see the average length of every production step and what stage suggests delays that lead to process stalemates.
The reason may lie in the field of incorrect terms estimation for the end consumer, or you may audit and test the product more than usual. In the second case, we face the question of reason: either an employee is not qualified enough or the auditor is overloaded and, correspondingly, the testing requires more time. Or the reason resides in the lack of people needed for a particular stage.
And only after outlining the working flow and defining the problem, it will become clear what to fix and automatize.
Advice №2. Commit optimization tasks
When the work on the previous point is already done, and you have a clear understanding of all business processes, as well as their «weak sides», it’s time to transform them into tasks.
Let’s analyze the following example: the goal is to dig a pit, we thus require a tool for it. And here we proceed to the selection of spade. And while choosing, we face quite a natural question: What type? If to google, you can find information about 9 basic models and more than 20 spades for specialized works. Do you need a shovel or a spade with a flat edge? A more systematic approach is required in this case.
But let’s go back to business processes. It becomes evident that the next step is to select a tool suitable for a narrower purpose. For it, you need to understand the goal you want to achieve and the things you need for it.
Again, it’s time to sit and take a hard look. For instance, I see problems and understand what I must see, how long each task bears one of the statuses, how long each of the assignees resolves different types of tasks, how fast the next stage assignee collects tasks from the previous one, how many tasks are assigned for each participant, what percentage of delayed terms for each stage and each assignee, etc. The number of tasks can be bigger or less, but their set is 100% individual. As a founder or a manager, you are to fix the tasks that will (in theory) resolve the problem outlined at the stage of business process analyses.
Advice №3. Do not try to be «Eye of Sauron»
No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to control everything. Everyone has a limited amount of information we can perceive and analyze. Therefore, besides outlining the tasks you want to solve, it’s also essential to ascertain what is enough for you. In the previous article, we were discussing the formula that helps to establish what you, as a manager, must, what is enough, and what you mustn’t see in your team and the process. And this stage is as valuable and important as all the others. Leave the minimum required and add data only if there truly exists a lack of information.
The selection of tools mostly depends on your «enough» as I have already mentioned before. If you experience any difficulty, the formula described in my article will help you sort it all out.
Advice №4. Choose integrable tools
After outlining the tasks and areas of influence, we can proceed to the tools for business processes optimization. These tools can be of different modes, e.g. task managers — tools enabling task setting and the control over its resolving; CRM systems enabling to track the customer path, local tools for database operating, chats, aggregators, tools for online-conferences, etc. The optimal way is evident — make a minimum number of tools cover a maximum number of tasks.
The first step thus is to select those tools combining several functions at once. For instance, if you need to log the time, it’s better not to choose the task manager and time logging tool separately, but rather a complex decision that covers both these functions.
After reducing the number of tools to a possible minimum, select those integrated among themselves.
Then separate tools will potentially group in a single system. For example, I receive messages in Slack from both Google Analytics, calendar, and project statuses I am interested in. Also, it’s possible to transfer email notifications and many more.
Roughly speaking, the right vector is the creation of a general multichannel workspace displaying those main statuses you require.
Advice №5. Rationalize rather than digitalize only because it’s a trend
I believe that not all components of digitalization can resolve problems. Some implementations only create them. The key task of every business is to be a functional system, and if the use of an instrument damages the process, you do not need it.
Let’s take the example of time logging. The question issues: why do you need to log time? Assuming, the team has an hourly rate, then it makes sense. Or if you need to understand the number of hours spent by assignees at each stage (according to the issue described above). But you shouldn’t log time if your business does not require it. If you can refuse digitalization, and it will simplify business control — refuse!
Use Occam’s razor principle: «entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity».
Let me repeat, the key aim of business process optimization with the digital sphere tools is to speed up, simplify, and increase the quality of operational work in a company.
If a specific tool does not work for you but only intensifies the strains on your life — cut it out.
Is digitalization a required tool after all?
There is no unambiguous answer. Only through analyses and systematic approach we can know for sure. But one thing is evident — over the last two years, digitalization has been firmly and apparently for a while rooted as an obligatory step for the majority of businesses.
Let’s look at figures:
- 64% of all small and medium-sized enterprises have at least websites.
- The volume of online transactions in the majority of retail industries has increased by 74%.
- Clothes online sales have increased by 34%.
- Daily online sales in the USA in April 2020 increased by 110%.
- 70% of small and medium-sized enterprises invest more funds in their digital presence.
- Around 51% of all enterprises interact with their customers on the Internet.
- 36% of all small and medium-sized enterprises sell on the Internet.
- More than 50% of small businessmen expect great growth of online sales after the end of the pandemic.
- 73% of customers use several channels and websites for sales.
Given statistics are based on the research of several independent media, such as Clutch.co, Apnews.com, Adobe.com, Pymnts.com, Dataforgood.fb.com, Hbr.org, Shopbase.com, etc.
A rational approach to digitalization and selection of tools for optimization can thus make business processes as clear as possible and increase the effectiveness of your enterprise, as well as its end value for a customer. At the current stage, a well-established workflow can act as a major competitive advantage, and in some cases even a unique commercial offer.
What step suggests the biggest number of difficulties? Is there advice that was a revelation or, on the contrary, seemed evident?