Business process optimization: what is it, and how do you do it?
July 22, 2022
The word ‘process’ can have a few different meanings, but in business, a process is simply a series of steps to complete a task. And process optimization? That’s the art and science of making those steps as efficient as humanly possible.
The goal of process optimization is to improve the quality of your output while reducing costs and maximizing resources. In other words, you want to do more with less.
As a project manager, you’re probably well aware of the importance of optimization. After all, optimizing is pretty much the heart of your job description. But what’s the best way to achieve it? In this guide, we’ll answer that question and more. Let’s get into it!
What is process optimization?
There are many different approaches to process optimization, but they all share one common goal: to make your business run more smoothly.
Process optimization can be used to improve any process in your business, from sales to creative to manufacturing. In fact, you can even use it to optimize your personal productivity. The key is to identify the areas where you can make improvements and put a plan in place to make those improvements a reality.
Here are some examples of process optimization practices:
- Eliminating redundancies
- Incorporating automation
- Streamlining workflows
- Improving communication
- Predicting changes
Why is process optimization so important?
Simply put, process optimization is important because it can help you save time and money. An optimized process is typically faster and more efficient than a non-optimized process. That means you can get more work done in less time, leading to big cost savings.
In addition, optimized processes are often easier to control. That can make your job as a project manager easier and help you avoid potential problems down the road.
- Streamlined operations: your entire operation is more organized and productive when you optimize processes, improving morale and efficiency across the board.
- Improved customer satisfaction: if customers are happy with your products or services, they will likely come back for more. By optimizing processes, you can improve output quality and increase customer satisfaction.
- Reduced costs: as mentioned earlier, a key benefit is cost savings. By streamlining processes and reducing waste, you can cut overall costs and boost profits.
- Better resource management: with optimization, you’ll often realize you don’t need as many resources to get the job done. Again, that leads to lower costs and higher efficiency.
- Fewer errors: optimized processes are typically easier to manage and control, which can help you avoid potential problems and mistakes.
- More creativity: people often forget creative work is also a process. When you optimize the way people think and collaborate on creative projects, good stuff happens. Just take a look at the layout of Pixar’s offices. When Steve Jobs joined the studio in 1999, one of his innovations was to build the HQ around a giant central atrium so that everyone — from the head animator to the canteen cook — could mingle. Why? Because he wanted a space that “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations”— two things central to creative ideas. To this day, the studio is world-famous for its creativity.
Managing processes vs. projects: what’s the difference?
Projects and processes are two different things, but they’re often confused. Here’s a quick rundown of the difference between the two:
- A project is a temporary undertaking with a specific goal and timeline. A process is a series of steps to complete a task.
- Projects are typically one-time events, while processes are ongoing.
- Processes have may have multiple goals, while projects typically have a specific goal.
- Projects usually have a specific timeline, while processes may be open-ended.
What are the challenges of process optimization?
While process optimization can offer several benefits, it’s not without its challenges. Here are a few of the most common roadblocks you may face:
1. Resistance to change
Any time you try to implement a new process, you’re likely to face resistance from employees who are comfortable with the status quo. It’s important to overcome that resistance and get buy-in from your team if you want to be successful. And the best way to go about that is with a change management process — a framework to help managers guide their teams through change.
2. Lack of data
To optimize your processes, you need data. Without data, it’s difficult to identify areas for improvement. Make sure you have relevant data before you start trying to optimize your processes. You can find useful data from various places, but your project management software is probably the best place to start. Here, you’ll find information about how long employees spend on tasks, budgets, deadlines, historic workflows, and more.
Some processes are more complex than others and can be difficult to optimize. If you’re facing a complex process or overfamiliarity is preventing you (and your team) from seeing alternatives, it may be helpful to seek advice from a professional consultant.
4. Time constraints
Optimizing your processes can take time, and you may not have that luxury if you’re understaffed or under a tight deadline. If you find yourself racing against the clock, prioritize the most important processes and focus on those first.
5. Limited resources
Don’t have enough money or workers to make the changes you want? You may need to get creative or make cuts elsewhere to free up some people.
Methods for optimizing your business processes
There are many different ways to optimize your business processes. The specific approach you take will depend on the nature of your business and the types of workflows you want to optimize, but here are some of the most popular options.
- Eliminating unnecessary steps: if a certain step doesn’t add value to your output, get rid of it.
- Automating processes: by automating repetitive tasks, you can free up time and resources that can be better spent elsewhere.
- Streamlining processes: make your processes more efficient by reducing waste and increasing productivity.
- Outsourcing: when you outsource a process, you’re essentially handing over responsibility for that process to another company or contractor.
- Implementing Lean principles: the Lean methodology is often used in manufacturing to eliminate waste and maximize efficiency.
- Process mining: process mining is a data-driven optimization approach. It involves using data from event logs to map out your processes and identify areas for improvement.
- DMAIC: DMAIC is an approach often used in Six Sigma. It stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control — five phases that form a cycle. Begin by defining your customers (or process) and your goals. Then, measure your current performance. After that, you’ll analyze your data to identify areas for improvement. Finally, you can implement process improvements and put controls in place to ensure the changes stick.
- PDSA: PDSA stands for Plan, Do, Study, Act. It’s similar to DMAIC but a bit simpler. Begin by planning your change. Then, implement the change and study the results. After that, you can decide whether to keep the change or go back to the drawing board.
- Kaizen: Kaizen is a Japanese approach to continuous improvement that involves making small, incremental changes that add up to big results over time.
Who should be responsible for the process optimization plan?
Choosing the right person to oversee process optimization procedures depends on your business. In some cases, it may make sense for the CEO or another senior executive to be responsible. In other cases, it may make more sense to delegate responsibility to a lower-level manager.
Ultimately, the best person to lead your process optimization efforts will be someone with a good understanding of your business workflows. They must be able to see things without getting caught up in the details or office politics. They should also be comfortable with change and able to get buy-in from other members of your team.
7 tips for successful process optimization
Follow these tips for a smooth rollout.
1. Define your goals
The first step to successful process optimization is defining your goals. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to increase efficiency? Reduce costs? Improve quality? Once you’ve defined these, you can start working on a plan to achieve them.
2. Get buy-in from your team
If you’re going to make changes to your processes, you need to make sure everyone on your team is on board. The best way to do this is to involve them in the process from the beginning. Explain why you’re making changes, and solicit their feedback. Involving people early and seeking their input makes them feel valued and heard — factors that really help when it comes to getting people on the same page.
3. Be prepared for change
The third step to successful process optimization is being prepared for change. Change can be difficult, but it’s essential if you want to fix issues that are holding the organization back. Be prepared to experiment and fail. And most importantly, be prepared to learn from your mistakes.
4. Track your progress
As you make changes to processes, you need to track the results. This will help you identify what’s working and what isn’t. It’ll also help you course-correct if you realize you aren’t achieving the desired results.
Project management tools are a must here: they help you track milestones and deadlines and collect valuable data to guide your evaluations.
5. Put controls in place
Once you’ve made changes, you need to put controls in place to ensure the changes stick. This may involve creating new policies or procedures, training your team members on the new process, and putting a rewards system in place to encourage people to follow the plan.
6. Don’t compromise quality for efficiency
Yes, you want to be efficient, but you also want to maintain a high level of quality. Striking the right balance can be difficult, but it’s essential to keep your customers happy.
7. Celebrate your successes
Change can be difficult, but it’s also exciting. When you achieve your goals, take the time to celebrate your success personally and with the team. This will motivate everyone to keep up the good work.