Are you a hardcore management type?
If not, concepts like business process analysis can seem impractical, unapproachable and not worth trying to understand.
That’s because business process management has an image problem. I associate it with godawful clip art, filing cabinets and bosses who sincerely remark about wheelhouses, paradigms and scaffolding.
A comment spotted on a video explaining business process management:
From earlier chapters, you know what a business process is. You know why they’re important, and that they need to be managed and updated. That’s a good grounding to start implementing process management in your business, but where do you start?
Just like in A/B testing, before making changes you start by looking at what you’ve already got. In this post I’m going to explain business process analysis — the first step you need to take before diving into managing your processes.
I’m not going to get to talking in distant buzzwords. I’d rather get through this explanation having shown you how to analyze your existing business processes so you can get on with growing your business, this time more efficiently.
Whether you know it or not, there are processes at work
Every business has its systems, whether they’re actually documented is another thing. A process is anything that takes an input and produces an output, and in business it’s usually part of a larger system to manage either internal (staffing, invoicing) or revenue-producing (products and services) activity.
And so, if you’re using your time, your Photoshop skills and your email account to run a small graphic design business, there’s a process at work there even if you don’t call it a process. The idea is to find out what the process is, document it and then try to refine it.
(The two words that make my brain breathe a sigh of relief.)
Let’s say you’re creating and sending an invoice (assuming you aren’t automating it). You hire 4 new staff members and you need to show them how to invoice the company properly. If you have never analyzed the process, there are a few risks involved:
- You can’t show the new staff how to invoice you correctly.
- You can’t show the new staff how to invoice you quickly.
- You can’t be sure you’re even explaining the most optimal workflow.
But, if you’ve taken time to analyze your existing process, you’d have something concrete to distribute (whether it’s on paper, with a document management system or through Process Street), and that would mean you can painlessly scale up that particular business function.
What process analysis looks like on a small scale
When you’re running a startup or small business, process analysis thankfully isn’t something that requires bringing in a team of consultants (who carry folders with clipart stickers and say things like co-opetion and bizmeth) — process analysis is something you can do internally.
Every team member can (and definitely should) analyze their own processes. Why? Can’t you just get someone from the operations team to do it? No, because as the man responsible for the flight checklists that saved Boeing from bankruptcy said:
“Bad checklists are vague and imprecise. They are too long; they are hard to use; they are impractical. They are made by desk jockeys with no awareness of the situations in which they are to be deployed” — Daniel Boorman
And I totally agree. Before I hand any process off, I make sure I’ve gone through the task myself and ruthlessly cut anything that isn’t strictly necessary.
The way to do this, task-by-task, is by recording a screencast of what I’m doing as I follow the task through from start to end.
Then, without doing any documentation beforehand, I start to make a bullet point list of what I’m doing using WorkFlowy, leaving out no vital detail.
Afterwards, of course, I paste the list into Process Street and flesh the skeleton out with screenshots, text explanations, and so on.
This documents the process. Without documentation there’s no process to analyze.
How to analyze existing business processes
Believe it or not, I actually have a process for analyzing and optimizing processes. It’s not something specific to our business or what I personally do, so it’s a process you or anyone can use!
Check it out here, and embedded below:
Inside the checklist, there are a number of ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions that you should answer for your core functions, and get others in your business to do the same. My core functions, for example, include:
- Writing/editing/formatting blog posts
- Writing/editing/formatting marketing emails
- Keyword research with a variety of SEO tools
- Content research with Buzzsumo
- Marketing data analysis
- Keyword analysis with database tools
- Launching and managing outreach campaigns
That’s already a fair few marketing processes, and it’s just one department. If these are processes that are done often enough there’d be time and money to save by optimizing them, then optimize them! It’d be pretty shameful if we didn’t keep our processes up to date at Process Street, but we hope everyone else takes it just as seriously.
Compiling your processes into a map
I realize business process mapping is another story for another time (and it is coming in the next chapter), but mapping really is a solid way to analyze a process.
Some people think in more visual terms, so if you’re one of those people or if you’re working with visual thinkers, mapping will speed things along.
What does a process map look like? This:
In the context of something you might do daily, it’s not such a jaw-breaking yawn.
You can use something like Draw — a Confluence add-on — to map your processes out. A good thing about not doing it on paper is that you never run out of space if you feel like interlinking the processes, showing dependancies or just quickly redrafting and optimizing.
The next steps
In the next chapter, I’m going to be taking a closer look at business process mapping. You’ll find out what it is, how it’s used, and why it’s such a powerful tool for making sense of traditionally difficult processes — especially for visual thinkers.
Ready to get started documenting your processes right now? Get a Process Street account today and discover how much better it is than Word or Excel for writing, distributing and executing business processes.