There’s no shortage of business buzzwords today: circle back, synergy, innovation…the list goes on. But what about “streamline process”? Is it just the latest trendy business term, or is there depth and value to it?
Here’s our take: streamlining a process is one of the most effective tactics leaders can use to drive growth and survive our turbulent economic climate. To help you out, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about it.
The concept is surprisingly simple. In short, a streamlined process is an efficient and clear order of completing steps to accomplish a task or project. It generates the most value with the least amount of resources and risk.
Although the concept is quite straightforward, streamlining can have a tremendous impact on your organization’s performance. Did you know – you can, quite literally, streamline any process in your business.
In addition to discussing the basics of streamlining – what it is and why you should practice it – we’re going to highlight several processes that can be streamlined in an organization.
In this article, we’re answering 3 fundamental questions about streamlining business processes:
- What is streamlining a process?
- What are the benefits of streamlining processes?
- What business processes can be streamlined?
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO STREAMLINE A PROCESS?
First and foremost–what does it mean to streamline a process? To streamline a business process means to trim down a task to its simplest, most efficient form.
A streamlined process accomplishes all of the following:
- Reduces waste
- Increases efficiency
- Uses fewer resources
- Minimizes risk
- Takes less time to complete
- Maximizes use of technology
- Produces consistent results
Specifically, a central goal of streamlining is to increase productivity. Therefore, this often requires leaders to remove unnecessary or redundant tasks in a process.
However, this does not mean that streamlining only involves indiscriminately cutting out steps in a process.
Rather, streamlining should improve a process holistically to ensure maximum ROI in the short and long term. Sometimes, this might even mean adding in steps – rather than removing them – to strengthen the business process.
For example, suppose a company wants to reduce the amount of time it takes to fulfill an online order.
Managers can decide to forgo some current steps that may at a glance seem unnecessary. As a result, they significantly reduce the time to complete an order.
But did they successfully streamline the process? The answer is no.
Although it may shorten order fulfillment times in the short term, it exposes the organization, its employees, and customers additional problems. This can include errors, increase in customer returns, and inaccurate inventory.
Thus, it is a poor business process that has not been properly streamlined.
A better approach, in this case, would be to conduct a needs analysis. A needs analysis would begin with an in-depth evaluation of the current order fulfillment process.
The process evaluation would reveal bottlenecks, redundancies, and other inefficiencies that are slowing down order fulfillment.
From there, the organization can address the root causes of inefficiency and streamline the process that does not compromise other priorities of the business.
To sum it up: when you streamline a process, your goal is to improve workflow efficiency without sacrificing other aspects of the business.
In the remainder of this article, we cover the benefits of streamlining and some specific examples of workflows that can be streamlined.
Interested in a deep dive into process improvement tools and techniques? Here are some resources:
Streamlining a process is one of the most important things you can do to improve efficiency and reduce unnecessary steps. The benefits of a streamlined process are advantageous to any business. Start by mapping out current processes. Then eliminate redundancy and unnecessary tasks.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO STREAMLINE A PROCESS?
As we explained in the last section, to streamline a process is to boil it down to its simplest, most efficient form.
It is important to know, there are countless benefits to streamlining processes for maximum efficiency, such as:
- Lower business costs
- Improve customer service and guest experience
- Reduce waste and errors
- Minimize security risks and safety hazards
- Increase transparency and visibility
- Reduce time to market
- Shorten order fulfillment times
- Increase employee engagement
- Increase effectiveness of employee training
In this regard, the greatest benefit of streamlining processes is not in the short-term efficiency gains.
The transformative power of streamlining lies in the fact that, over time, refining process efficiency at all levels of the business can foster a culture of continuous improvement.
Why is this important? Organizations with continuous improvement cultures don’t simply cope with change – they embrace it.
They encourage team members to constantly improve business performance through meaningful, strategic changes.
Companies with continuous improvement cultures are more agile and resilient. They solve problems faster, produce higher-quality products and services, and navigate crises more effectively.
Streamlining a process or two can yield measurable revenue and productivity gains. However, streamlining becomes fundamentally transformative when applied consistently across the business, as part of a larger cultural shift.
To read more about how continuous improvement culture can transform your organization, check out this article: 5 Ways a Continuous Improvement Culture Helps Businesses Solve Problems
WHAT BUSINESS PROCESSES CAN BE STREAMLINED?
By now, you understand what it means to streamline a process and why it’s good for business. But let’s talk specifics: what are some examples of processes that can be streamlined?
In theory, any process can be improved upon. In fact, this is a core belief of organizations with a continuous improvement culture.
Anything from sales, operations, accounting, distribution, and bringing on new talent to the organization can be made more effective and efficient.
However, organizations should devote time and energy to identifying their specific pain-points before mobilizing resources towards a process-improvement effort.
To give you a better idea of which processes can be streamlined – and how – we’re covering 3 areas of business where processes often need improvement.
These three process areas are employee onboarding, invoicing, and inventory management.
Let’s jump in!
Onboarding of new talent to an organization is a complex, multi-phase process that involves various business departments. Because this process is so dynamic, businesses often struggle to make it effective, efficient, and engaging.
Poor onboarding can cause high employee turnover, lead to inefficiencies, and decrease employee engagement. For many organizations, bringing on new team members can take months. It just doesn’t have to be so cumbersome.
Because of this, it is important to streamline your onboarding process for maximum impact.
Consider all the tasks, people, and resources involved in the larger onboarding process:
- Identify talent need
- Write and post job listing to various sites
- Collaborate with a recruiter
- Screen applications
- Multiple rounds of interviews
- Narrow down top applicants
- Reviews and approvals with hiring managers
- Make an offer to top applicant(s)
- Complete necessary paperwork
- Provide orientation training
- Enable access to company software/platforms
- Introduce to team members and workstream leaders
- Convey company culture each step of the way
With so many moving parts, onboarding can last weeks – if not months. And there is plenty of room for error.
So how can you streamline onboarding to ensure the important tasks are completed in the right order and in a timely manner? Here are some tips:
Automate as many tasks as possible: Finances Online reports that automation improves new-hire performance by 18%. Automation can ensure that applicants move through each step of the onboarding process instantaneously. This reduces the lag time between onboarding phases.
Prep for onboarding: You want your new hires to be able to hit the ground running. For this reason, employees’ work areas, equipment, computers, logins and software permissions should be ready to go by the time they walk through the door. Streamline this aspect of onboarding by collaborating with IT and other departments prior to your employee’s first day.
Digitize paperwork: Going digital is one of the best ways to streamline your onboarding process, especially when it comes to paperwork. Nowadays, even forms containing sensitive information can be securely shared, signed, and stored virtually. Digitizing forms not only saves time, but it can also improve your overall document management and protect important onboarding files.
Ensure an engaging onboarding experience: Avoid the boring, disorganized onboarding that so many businesses conduct. Expedite the necessary paperwork quickly. Share planned schedule for the first few days. Involve other team members and senior leaders in welcoming them to the organization. Assign a buddy to help new hires feel included and help with the transition. Prioritize discussing company culture.
Companies get one chance to do onboarding right. Improve and streamline the onboarding process to increase retention and set up new hires for success!
As you know, your invoicing process is the bridge that connects your business to its revenue. For this reason, it is crucial to streamline your invoicing process.
As a result, an inefficient billing process can result in delayed payments, under- or over-charging clients, and disgruntled customers.
Streamlined invoicing can only be accomplished with an air-tight document management strategy. Document management refers to how a business creates, stores, shares, and edits all kinds of work-related documents.
To illustrate, here are some best practices in document management that will streamline your invoicing process:
Standardized document naming conventions make it easier for you and your clients to keep track of invoices and other billing documents. Consistent naming rules also protect you from sending an outdated version of an invoice that may contain errors.
Standardized document storage and folder organization will reduce the amount of time spent searching for documents. This will also decrease the likelihood of misplacing a file.
Storing documents on a shared, cloud-based drive will make it easier to collaborate on billing documents across departments. However, to protect sensitive financial information, make sure to set up proper permissions. This will give you control over who has access to view and edit sensitive documents.
Inventory management is an area of business that can be completely bogged down by tedious tasks.
Why? Inventory involves numerous high-volume, repetitive tasks. So, if those tasks do not have a streamlined process, it can amount to massive losses over time.
Far too often, businesses fail to leverage technology to maximize the efficiency of their inventory processes. If your organization is still managing inventory on pen and paper or manual-entry spreadsheets, there is a lot of potential to improve your processes.
In this situation, efforts to streamline inventory management operations, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is the way to go.
As many businesses have experienced, rolling out new technology is no easy feat, but ERPs are worth the investment. They automate a variety of business processes, including inventory operations. Thus, they cut costs, reduce errors, improve supply chain management and visibility, and minimize risk.
A word of caution: an ERP will not automatically solve all inventory woes. ERP implementation must be accompanied by effective processes that are well-documented. Beyond that, employees must be trained on the new processes as part of the implementation plan. This is true for any major technology roll-out. Without solid processes and an implementation plan, new software can potentially worsen the current state of your processes.
Want to avoid costly mistakes in your streamlining efforts? Check out our blog on the top 4 missteps leaders make when improving business processes.
As we’ve seen here, streamlining processes is more than a buzzword – it’s a fool-proof technique to improve how efficient you operate in all aspects of a business. In this way, it can be applied in countless ways to improve performance and reduce costs at every level of your business.
It’s good to know that virtually any process can be improved and optimized for maximum impact.
Depending on the nature and scope of a process, the effort to streamline a process can be quite daunting. At RTG Solutions Group, our experts can revitalize your processes and unlock hidden opportunities for growth.