For the last few years, we have seen an exponential growth of some type of business models that challenged past paradigms and revamped large parts of the economy, for example, platforms such as Uber. Unfortunately, not everyone was ready for such a rapid change and it is creating tensions and difficult situations for many workers.
Today, many companies are struggling to rethink their customer’s value proposition. It is not easy, especially for large companies due to their inertia. Many organizations are already rethinking their business models for the digital age by proposing new services and offerings that can be accessed with new technologies. By technologies, I’m not only referring to advanced things like AI or Blockchain, I’m encompassing things like IoT and more palpable things that can be accessed (virtually) for free such as fully packaged e-commerce website for SMEs.
Let’s bring to life the e-commerce one with an example. Let’s imagine a business selling T-shirts online. Recently, the company has managed to continue developing the business by offering organic T-shirts. It is a good business move as it combines something for the planet and the bottom line (I’m assuming the suppliers are doing their part well to source organic materials). Yet, it is just the same business model.
However, they could offer a new kind of product offering with some simple technologies. For example, they could offer to their clients the ability to get a fast and reasonably priced customized T-shirt from their selected designers. The company could literally fly. In fact, not much needs to change to enabling it.
They would just need to add one extra step within their physical supply chain which would be a customization station just before the T-shirts get packed into the parcels and handed over to the fulfilment provider(s). A simple e-commerce website can handle the customer’s customization requirements; the company would do its core value part by customizing the T-shirt. They just need stock on hand, turn around the customization with the artists the same day the orders are received and then ship it using their preferred e-commerce fulfillment provider(s). The company would effectively be different to the rest of the marketplace, yet the investment is minimal (or at least limited).
Obviously, I took a situation and made it looks like probably easier that it is. For a well-established company this can really be a challenged, especially with changing people’s habits.
Let’s assume the company would embark on this journey, the team would need to be able to handle that additional complexity of turning around the customization at the right quality within the time frame. This is a clear business process that is repeatable (many customers orders, yet all different), it needs to be sustainable throughout the year to ensure consistent quality & cost (during holidays, peak periods, etc.) and should be able to scale (on board new artists, new countries, etc.).
Let’s go back to our reality. There is a good and a bad news for you here. The bad news is that you already have plenty of business processes within your organization that would benefits to be more repeatable, sustainable and scalable without needing to change your business model. The good news? You can get started now! You do not need anything more that the right blend of skills, behaviors and simple technologies. Good luck.
What are repeatable, sustainable and scalable business processes?
First let’s start with defining business processes. Business processes or work processes are series of activities (tasks, meetings, approvals, etc.) that together execute business objectives. Business processes are essential. In fact, everyone use them, you have them around you whether you are in a small company or a large enterprise. Unfortunately, most of them are not well visible and transparent as their formalization and maturity is limited.
There are typically three level of business process maturity:
- Only “in people’s mind”
- Documented but most often not up to date
- Woven within your ways of working. Just doing the work in collaboration with your system(s) ensure that you are following the standard(s) and are efficient while doing it.
Business processes can be found in any fields, functions and industries. Below are some examples of mostly managerial business process:
- Supply Chain Planning: Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP), Integrated Business Planning (IBP), demand planning, project planning, capacity planning, supply planning, etc.
- Product Management: Portfolio management, new product introduction, etc.
- Budgeting & Reporting: Yearly budgeting, financial planning, P&L reporting, etc.
- Strategy deployment & communication: strategic quarterly initiatives; steering committee decision making and communication, company priorities quarterly updates, etc.
- Sales & Marketing: Go to market review, sales promotion, customer collaboration, campaign management, content marketing, etc.
- Corporate & Social Responsibility
- Risk & Quality Management, Business continuity management
The repeatability can be distilled down to two dimensions: Time & Occurrence.
- There are many work processes that needs to happen regularly, sometimes daily (e.g. routines within a warehouse), weekly (e.g. performance review), monthly (e.g. budget review) or any other frequency.
- There are other work processes that are occurrence based. Think about a project that needs to follow a specific consistent path.
As the word indicates, business processes are not really business processes until they can be sustain over time. Otherwise, they are just a one off specific work activity that needs doing.
A sustainable process needs to be owned by the organization and not only by one specific individual. Of course, there will always be some responsible and accountable staff members, however if they suddenly disappear the process should carry on.
Here we mean scalability in terms of the ability to easily reapply the same process in different part of the organization with different people. Imagine a successful start up working in the UK, due to their success there are now launching their model in 10 European countries, how can they ensure that their initial success embedded into their ways or working can be executed in the same fashion in all countries? If this can be done with ease then you can be comfortable that you have scalable business processes.
Why build repeatable, sustainable and scalable business processes?
Too often, business processes stay unformal, unwritten ("in people's mind") and this poses serious challenges such as relying too much on a few key individuals.
Building great processes is not easy, so you will often be better off focusing only on a few core business processes than be average at all of them.
This focus will allow your organization to improve its cost thanks to efficiency but also to navigate challenges such as remote working or staff turnover. And (not the least important), your organization will have the assurance that its ways of working are in place and can be used to support the company growth.
Here are six reasons why it is important to build repeatable, sustainable and scalable ways or working:
- Get a more enjoyable job
- Be quicker at what you and your team do
- Get a consistent approach & outputs for your customers
- Ensure the right people and skills are contributing at the right time
- Be quicker to react
- Save or at least optimize resources
- Retain your best people instead of putting to much pressure onto them until they leave…
How to get started and build a repeatable and scalable business process?
It depends where you start.
If you are just getting started or you feel you need to step change your business processes, check out the following (not so easy!) steps:
Perform an organization wide review of your ways of working to categorize and prioritize your business processes
Select a cross functional team that will be in charge of designing and documenting (ideally digitally!) your business processes, this should include at least:
- Process frequency
- Process input and outputs
- Process steps and their sequence
- Steps type (task, meeting), inputs and outputs as relevant
- Steps content (agenda, activity, medium, tools, etc.)
- Define roles and responsibilities at process and step level (RACI Matrix)
- Confirm the level of agility v prescription that is left to the people executing the process
Pilot your business processes
Implement to the rest of the organization as relevant
Then use the below checklist and strive to get at least 9 out of 12 points. Take one question at a time and when you score 0, get together with a small core team to identify practical ways to improve the situation.
Checklist: 12 questions to identify ways to get your business processes more repeatable, sustainable and scalable.
We have listed below 12 questions to look at your current business processes and help you identify rapidly opportunities to make them more mature. You can also download the list for easier use.
Each “yes” is 1 point. Doing this is usually easier if you think about a specific process rather than staying at higher level. Also, having done this a fair bit, it is better to have some core processes at 12 points rather than all at only about 3 points…
- Is everyone - involved in the process - able to explain what the process is about? (why, what and how?)
- Will the process continue to deliver its benefits if the process lead(s) are removed from it today?
- Do you measure the process efficiency? (using KPIs such as attendance, completion on time, resources used, etc.)
- Is the process documented and not deprecated? (think about SIPOC diagram, RACI matrix, swim lane diagram, …)
- Is it clear which part(s) of the process are non-negotiable and needs to happen in a specific way and which one(s) are left to the local business needs or individuals?
- Is there a clear threshold mechanisms to empower decision making at the right level and limit escalation?
- Is there any consequences (positive or negative) if the process does not happen at all or not according to the standard(s)?
- Is everyone involved in the process able to see and understand what happened/is happening?
- Is there a regular review of the process to identify improvements and stay relevant to the latest business needs?
- Will the business process continue working if you replace someone by another team member (with similar skills)?
- Are the low value added activities of the work process automated?
- What if you simply stop doing your business process, do you know who would shout at you?
- If you have less than 3 points: good news, you are at the beginning, you can only progress, aim for at least 6 points within 6 months.
- If you have 3 to 6 points: some foundations are secured, focus on adding at least 1 point every quarter. Your progression over the next 12 months will be incredible.
- If you have 6 to 9 points: well done, don’t stop here, much more to go at! Careful by the time you fix new points you may be losing points elsewhere!
- More than 12 points: maybe it’s time to excel and go to 12? Or maybe your best to focus on additional business processes that you have not assessed yet?