How to improve business processes

There is the current way and then there is a better way

Curiosity of finding better ways of doing things in life is what lead to not only evolutions, but also revolutions throughout time from the days of Noah’s Arc to the modern world of BMW, Netflix, Amazon and millions of other innovations. Humans have been the most innovative species on the planet, our ancestors’ lives were completely different to our lives (for the better in most part, but I agree it is a debatable subject). Despite being innovators over millions of years, the speed at which innovation is travelling at these days is phenomenal and unprecedented. Most organisations are well aware of this fact and utilizing this trend to grow their organisations by either innovating themselves or utilising these new innovations for their organisations or both.
So, the question is how can organisations embrace these changes? Well first of all remember that famous proverb “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast”. Setting a strategy is a crucial stepping stone, however strategy needs to be built around the culture to ensure everyone in the organization is in line with this strategy and avoid a clash with its culture. The organization needs to ensure everyone strongly believes that there is their current way and then there is a better way. Employees will not only need to be educated to think of better, creative and innovative ways of doing things, but they also need to be encouraged and empowered to make turn those change initiatives into reality.
There are many methodologies and frameworks which can be used to initiate better ways of doing things, including:
Lean Systems Thinking is a customer centric methodology with a pure focus on delivering value to the customer and anything that doesn’t add value for the customer, it is simply considered waste. We can agree that some waste is like necessary evil, however it needs to be identified, evaluated and eliminated if possible, otherwise streamlined. Lean encourages continuous improvement cycles as a program rather than a project with a deadline. It should be embedded as part of the organizational culture.
Business Process Reengineering is a management strategy which focuses on reengineering business processes to optimize it for maximum efficiency and removing any bottlenecks. There are four steps in a never-ending loop:
• Identify current processes
• Review, update and analyse current processes as they are
• Design a future ‘to-be’ scenario
• Test and Implement the ‘to-be’ scenario

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it

If you can’t measure it, You can’t manage it

Peter Drucker is usually quoted saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” which is an old management proverb that is still used frequently to date in the context of business process improvement. However, with the growth of new creative and innovative industries, it has become much more difficult to measure, specially at low level without hampering creativity and innovation.

During the industrial revolution where a big percentage of jobs were routine tasks, it was easier to introduce measures to help identify success for a business process improvement task. In the modern contemporary world, a lot of jobs where its main tasks were repetitively routine day-in day-out in the company have been replaced with the growth of automation and machinery. However, it has also introduced many new industries which introduced different challenges in managing business process improvements. Hatfield et all (Steve Hatfield, 2017) from Deloitte, one of the big four accounting organisations, wrote an article about the future of workforce which says “While many manual tasks of this earlier era were replaced with efficient machine alternatives, this did not simply eliminate jobs and leave workers idle. It also inspired creative innovation and spurred the growth of new industries. The displaced farmers and craftspeople supplied the workforce for factory assembly lines and countless textile factories. They became our coal miners, the builders of our growing cities and our railroads, and much later our call centre agents”

In the creativity and innovation industries not only does measuring a business process improvement become trickier, it’s also important to carefully define the objectives of a business process improvement. If success measurements are defined at low-level it can hamper creativity and innovation by restricting the workforce within a small set of defined objectives, which not only can it discourage creativity and innovation, but it can also have a negative impact on workforce motivation as they wouldn’t feel empowered. In the Forbes Magazine, Liz Ryan (Ryan, 2014) argues, “the important stuff can’t be measured” she is mainly referring to the modern world of creativity and innovation which is very difficult to measure. In fact, if measures are put in place for creative tasks without thorough thought and involvement of all parties, it can damper or restrict creativity. Amabile and Khaire (Khaire, 2008) says “creativity is essential to the entrepreneurship that gets new businesses started and that sustains the best companies after they have reached global scale”. This emphasizes the importance of the encouraging creativity.

Measuring a business process improvement of factory workers was a fairly straight forward task as humans can make educated data-driven decisions quickly as opposed to creative outside the box decisions. At a high-level if the objective of a business process improvement in a wood factory was to produce chairs more efficiently then they could easily measure its success by recording number of chairs produced before and after the business process improvement task and at low-level the objective could be to produce brown chairs with white legs more efficiently and it can be measured the same way as for high-level objective. However, if an accountancy firm creates a business process improvement task with an objective for the team to provide a good customer service, it becomes much more difficult to measure its success at low level. At low-level they could ask customers to fill out a survey after their visit to the firm, but (Watt, 2002) claims that overall response rate for paper based surveys was just 33.3%. This suggests only 33.3% of the objective can be measured at low level. However, if this same accounting firm measured success of the business process improvement at higher level over a longer period, for example the length of customers loyalty with the accounting firm, it can be measured easier and with factual data that backs it up.

Amabile and Khaire (Khaire, 2008) from Harvard Business School organised a two-day colloquium and invited business leaders whose organisation’s success depended on creativity. They found “Over those two days, we saw a new agenda for business leadership begin to take shape. At first, we heard scepticism that creativity should be managed at all. Intuit cofounder Scott Cook, for example, wondered whether management was “a net positive or a net negative” for creativity. “If there is a bottleneck in organisational creativity,” he asked, “might it be at the top of the bottle?” By the colloquium’s end, however, most attendees agreed that there is a role for management in the creative process; it is just different from what the traditional work of management might suggest. The leadership imperatives we discussed, which we share in this article, reflect a viewpoint we came to hold in common: One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

The growth of these new innovative and creative industries requires different ways of measuring success. Management are having to take a step back from day to day tasks and instead focus on empowering their workforce to make low-level decisions to avoid unintentionally restricting creativity and innovation and focus on high-level decisions and measurements in a way which encourages creativity and innovation.

Khaire, T. A. (2008). Creativity and the role of the leader. Creativity.

Ryan, L. (2014, 02 10). ‘If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It’: Not True.

Steve Hatfield, A.-C. R. (2017). Workforce of the Future.

Watt, S. C. (2002). Electronic course surveys: does automating. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 325-337.