Work smart, not hard
Perfect your processes
Feryal Erhun of the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) explains how taking a step back to break down processes can help you give your business a shot in the arm.
If you can’t explain a process, then you probably don’t have one. Although the ‘p word’ can often be an afterthought for many businesses when launching an idea, market research firm IDC highlights that 20 to 30% of lost revenue can be down to poor process1.
“When you're in growth mode, one of the things that you don’t really pay too much attention to is operational excellence – to the process,”* says Feryal Erhun, Tutor in Operations Management at the Cambridge Judge Business School, and expert in practice-based research into, among other things, optimising capital-investment decisions.
“Processes are anything that repeat themselves, so it's important to understand how they are interlinked and how they work. If we can document them, then that's a great opportunity to improve them,” Feryal says.
If you lay out processes in a clear and concise framework, it means opportunities can be acted upon, weaknesses can be addressed and threats can be discussed. Your evaluation of internal processes can highlight a business’ strengths and allow for the introduction of a far more efficient and effective operating model.
Taking a step back to assess those actions and how they might need to change as your business grows will help you address what Feryal raises here: “Are you going to do more of what you're doing, maybe in a more systematic manner, or are you going to change it drastically and scale up in a slightly different way? When people can see the end-to-end journey documented, they can immediately identify where changes can be made and efficiency built.”
Feryal explains this using a simple example about going on holiday – from packing your bags the night before, to arriving at your hotel the following day.
When you’re going on holiday, you wouldn’t pack “10 T-shirts when you’re only going away for 3 days,” Feryal explains. Similarly you’d look at any “time wasted at the airport, or waiting for a coach to your hotel instead of just getting a taxi.” These are the first steps to improving the efficiency of your journey.
Analysing just one element from the day-to-day life of your business and documenting the steps taken from start to finish is an important exercise. Critically, this understanding of process will shine a spotlight on where improvements can be made and resilience can be built.
Building a transparent operating model allows businesses to develop a greater level of resilience and enables a strong foundation from which growth can occur. Identifying ‘what ifs’ and proactively planning for unforeseen circumstances can mean the difference between success and failure.
“I work with healthcare companies, and process documentation, and improvement is one of the basic tools that they use for service transformation,” Feryal says.
“With healthcare, the number of processes and variability is so significant; the last thing you want is everybody approaching the same thing from a different perspective. That doesn't mean that everything has to be automatic, so there's no room to move, but as long as there are just key parts that could be standardised, then the next step is thinking about whether it can be automated or outsourced. That'll open up the discussion to a completely new floor, and decisions you haven't thought of before.”
It’s not always straight forward to identify where process can be improved when you’re growing rapidly. However, it is an important part of building a successful business. As your company grows, new staff with varied backgrounds might bring a fresh perspective on how old processes can be improved. In turn, they might also bring new working models, which future-proof your business and improve efficiency.
Feryal is sharing her tips on operational excellence and resilience as part of The Barclays Scale-Up UK programme, to give businesses a tangible growth plan to support their growth ambitions. Find out more about the programme and its modules.
*Quotations have been edited for length and clarity.
- Documenting your day-to-day processes
- Identifying ways to improve your processes
- Figuring out which areas of the business need to make changes
- Discussion of bottom-up and top-down strategies
- Carrying out your processes while concentrating on growth
- A framework of direct steps for documenting your processes
- Tools to help you analyse your processes
- A structured method of improving your processes