Before the Industrial Revolution, the majority of manufactured goods were made by hand. Individual workers, each specializing in creating a specific part, used different tools to make pieces of a product. These pieces would then be brought together, bit by bit, to complete the finalized version. That all changed in 1901 when Ransom E. Olds, founder of Olds Motor Vehicle Co., created the assembly line.
Demand for the automobile was growing, and Olds needed a way to increase output without hiring more production staff. As a result, he came up with the very first assembly line using interchangeable parts, fixed workstations, and pieces of cars delivered to workers so that products could be assembled in one location. This cut down on the number of hours it took to create each automobile. Within a year, Olds and his team were able to increase their output six-fold.
Several years later, Henry Ford added a conveyor belt to the production. As a result, workers no longer had to carry individual parts to a single workstation. Thus, Ford and his team were to assemble cars even faster with less labor.
So how does this relate to your business? Automating workflows in your company is similar to the creation of the assembly line. Both share the goal of making processes more efficient, which ultimately increases productivity and growth in your organization. This eBook will explore how to effectively identify the processes you need to improve upon and how to do it so that you can reap the benefits of workflow automation.
To Grow Your Business — Work Smarter, Not Harder
The invention of the assembly line enabled both Ransom Olds and Henry Ford increase output while doing less work. By streamlining their processes, they made their workflow more efficient. In other words, they worked smarter, not harder.
A process is a collection of actions or steps taken to complete a specific task. By definition, a workflow is made up of processes that ensure a business delivers its services and products, in the same way, every single time. The idea is that anyone in a business can follow these set steps and achieve the exact same results.
As a business owner, your primary job is growing your business. You likely don’t have time to micromanage your employees and your company processes. Enter workflow automation. Retooling the way to complete tasks will allow you to streamline how things at your company are done so you can make sure your results are consistent, your business stays compliant, and that your sensitive data stays secure.
There are many different areas in which your company can streamline its processes. Additionally, there’s a variety of applications that you can use to do that. The ultimate goal is increasing productivity and business output. A few areas are:
How you and your team communicate with one another is important. The way you do so can either save you or take up valuable time. Streamlining your inter-office communications will help your staff avoid lost time and mishaps associated with not being on the same page.
There are many programs on the market today that allow employees to easily share information and keep track of project progress. For example, Microsoft Teams allows your employees to upload and edit documents while sending notes back and forth in a chat while communicating with each other on the same platform. Find one that works for you, and start using it to minimize wasted time.
Or, the delineation of departmental responsibilities. Knowing who in the office is responsible for completing different tasks ensures that work is not duplicated and helps eliminate workplace stress. Project management software can help your team achieve clarity when it comes to who’s responsible for what tasks in your business processes.
Additionally, it’s good to lay out (in writing) exactly how tasks are accomplished. This way, if someone outside of a certain department needs to step in and help, they’re able to complete a task in the exact same way.
Data storage is exactly what it sounds like. It’s how your company stores, and then later finds, its important business information. Having a set process in place will save you and your staff time down the line when you need to search for documents. Especially ones you haven’t touched in a while. File hosting servers like Dropbox allow your data to remain secure while being easily searchable, keeping your company compliant.
Taking time to properly train employees helps eliminate misunderstandings later on. Training them on specific processes helps them understand the rationale behind the way your company does things and learn how all of its roles fit together. When it comes to technical solutions, hiring an MSP to train your employees allows them to feel confident when tackling projects and realize the importance of IT in your business processes.
Did you know, the average worker wastes 22 minutes a day dealing with IT-related issues? Streamlining the way your office handles support issues, whether that’s coming up with internal processes, having an onsite IT team, or outsourcing your technology needs, helps you save time and resources. If people know who (or where) they can turn to when they have an IT issue, they’re less likely to waste time trying to figure it out themselves.
Additionally, business technology needs to be built around your company’s goals. Not the other way around. When your tech works for you, you can accomplish more in less time. Employees who feel their workplace effectively uses tech are more creative, satisfied, and productive at work. Win win win.
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Next Steps
Depending on your industry, there are other likely other areas in which your company can optimize their processes. To determine them, visualize operations you’d like to go more smoothly or times there were hiccups you feel could have been prevented. Also, ask employees to be candid about where they think your business processes can improve. While you don’t have to use all of their ideas, it’s a good idea to take into account the opinions of the individuals who understand the work and do it every day.
Once you and your team have identified what these areas are, you can begin developing a plan to improve them and automate your workflow.
6 Business Benefits of Workflow Automation
Making your workflow more efficient essentially means creating a series of automated actions for the various steps in your business process. Doing this helps you save resources while providing your goods and/or services to paying customers. When Ransom Olds introduced the stationary assembly line, he was able to increase his automobile output six-fold. While these benefits themselves are great, there are other advantages to improving your processes. We put together a list of our favorites.
Workflow automation will help you streamline both your internal and external communications. Doing this ensures that the right people get the right information at the right time. It keeps your company on track to deliver its goods and services in a prompt manner while improving your customer response time.
Chat services like Microsoft Teams let your employees communicate with one another, edit documents, and share links all on the same channel. A VoIP solution will allow your team to receive voicemails in their email inbox so they can listen on the go or off-site, getting back to customers or other employees quickly.
Lost productivity and poorly managed leads cost companies at least $1 trillion every year.
Automating your workflow helps expand the number of tasks your employees can do in one day by decreasing the amount of time spent on each. Thus, increasing productivity.
Additionally, managers won’t need to micromanage every task. Project management software will provide them an overview of the progress on different tasks, eliminating the need for constant employee follow-up. Thus, you’re able to increase your business output and devote more time to handling your leads.
Source: Community Dynamic
47% of companies haven’t even started to digitally transform their business. That’s a shame because, in today’s market, the need for workflow automation is rapidly becoming necessary to remain competitive. Customers want to see that companies they choose to do business with are up-to-date on the latest technology and management tactics. They want to know that you are making an effort to help them efficiently and with care. Transforming your processes to become more efficient is essential to growing your business and retaining your customer base.
Automating processes essentially means for every step of a project, there is one person responsible. Every employee will know what is expected of them. Thus, workflow automation creates responsibility among your staff. It will be very easy for management to know if tasks are not completed on time because there’s a record of progress in each individual project, meaning anyone can reference it if they need clarification on project status or process.
Another great feature of project management applications is that they automatically send out progress updates, eliminating the need to manually send notifications when a task is complete or the next part of a project needs to be started. This allows management to spend time focusing on the bigger picture instead of micromanaging staff. Also, if there are any bottlenecks, they’ll be easily identified.
Automating your workflows ensures that fewer mistakes will be made. However, if they are, those responsible will be held accountable. It’s easier to keep tasks from going unnoticed as everyone involved in the process is held accountable for their own role. This reduces the loss of resources associated with employee errors and largely eliminates the need for administrative labor.
Enable Greater Employee Success
Improving your processes eliminates the need for repetitive tasks. Employees like this because they can focus their energy on more important projects. Plus, this leaves more time for company collaboration and innovation.
Workflow Automation Means Big Benefits
Whether you choose to tackle it internally or hire a managed service provider that can help you improve your processes, there are big benefits to automating your company workflow. When your work flows smoothly, employees understand what’s expected of them, and you don’t have to worry about micromanaging, you can focus on the bigger picture: growing your business.
Developing a Process Improvement Plan
According to an AIIM survey, 55% of individuals asked said that managing their processes and automating their workflow is imperative for their company to thrive. How do you get started? The answer is simple. A plan. A process improvement plan, to be specific. Once you’ve identified the areas of your business you want to improve, you need to work out how you’re going to do it. This isn’t a reactive plan you create so you can take action when a crisis occurs. This is a proactive plan that takes a problem-solving approach to improving processes in your company.
So, how do you create a process improvement plan? Simple. Follow these steps.
Step 1 – Identify Improvement Objectives
Once you know the areas of your business you want to improve, identify what objectives your company wants these refined processes to meet. For instance, if you feel your employee training process should be better, determine how. Exactly what do you want new employees to take away from your training tactics? What will they understand about your company, its inner workings, its goals?
Step 2 – Create a Team
The next step is to establish a team that will be responsible for making these process improvements. According to Paragon, 65% of people say process improvement plans are driven at a departmental level, while 38% indicate that these plans are initiated from the bottom up. When selecting your team, be mindful of their current responsibilities and level of involvement with the company’s existing processes. You want to make sure you get a mix of employees to weigh in on the plausibility of different process proposals – budget, time commitment, output rate, etc. Just make sure that everyone on their team knows their role in implementing the different processes.
The more that people are invested in the creation new initiatives, the more likely they are to adopt them. Additionally, if more people are aware of what the plan is from the get-go, the less likely there are to be communication breakdowns later on.
Step 3 – Get Visual
Humans are visual creatures. People typically only remember about 10% of something they hear three days later. However, when information is accompanied by a visual, individuals are up to 55% more likely to remember it.
That’s why it’s extremely helpful to define your current processes using a visual aid. This makes it easier to track their flow and allows your team to drill down to see obstacles in a way they may not have before. After you make a visual representation of your current processes, do the same for your proposed ones. Your team will then see how they are a part of the larger picture and how their role impacts the entire company.
Step 4 – Collect & Analyze Existing Process Data
Gathering data on existing processes (how long things take, what you’re spending, output quality, how effective employees feel training is, etc.) will allow you to establish a baseline to compare your updated processes to later on. This lets you and your team better understand what is improving, or lacking, in your process changes.
Step 5 – Create Backup Strategies
As wonderful as it would be for all of your process improvements to work out perfectly, chances are there will be a few hiccups along the way. It can take time for people to adopt new procedures and for you to achieve the results you desire as a result of doing so. However, there may come a point where you know a new protocol isn’t working out. Before implementing these new processes, you and your team need to determine at what point a process is no longer meeting the objective(s) you’ve set.
To keep things running smoothly while you’re changing your workflow, it’s critical to preemptively determine these potential obstacles and come up with different approaches to implement if they arise.
Step 6 – Implementation
After you’ve created your process improvement plan, you begin to enact it. During a trial period, collect the same types of data you did of your old processes to use for comparison later. Then, you’ll be able to assess whether your new processes meet the objectives you set, have made your workflow more efficient, and improved your business output. If the answer is “yes” to each of these, you’ll know that your improvements are a success.
Following these steps ensures that you’ll be able to create a process improvement plan that helps your company achieve its goals and become more efficient. If you feel you need help creating this plan, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a strategic planning consultant.
Prepare for Success with a Strategic Planning Consultant
As a business owner, you likely don’t have ample time to focus on individually reworking your processes. While you want to be involved, you may not necessarily want to lead the charge. That’s where a strategic planning consultant comes in. They’ll help your company identify the strengths and weaknesses of your current process, helping you come up with more efficient ways to automate your workflow. And, depending on your future goals, they’ll help you determine a timeline and suggest tactics you can employ to reach those objectives.
These consultants are skilled in using their industry experience and analysis of company processes, combined with their objective perspective, to help you identify strategies and solutions that will add value to your organization.
What They Do for Your Business
Many businesses choose to improve their processes internally. However, there are benefits of bringing a workflow automation expert in to assist. A strategic planning consultant can help your business:
1) Save Time
51% of SMB owners cite time as the single biggest obstacle to adopting new technologies, and 18% say a lack of understanding is their greatest barrier. A strategic planning consultant will come in and look at your current processes to help you determine what improvements you can make to your workflow. This helps you save time coming up with what processes to improve.
2) Initial Analysis
A consultant will come in and provide you with their plans for effectively analyzing your organization’s current workflow. From the information they gather and the knowledge they have about current market conditions, they’ll put together a plan for how you can best optimize processes and exactly how you’ll benefit from doing so (in terms of finances, resources, productivity, etc.).
3) Assess Honestly
Consultants will ask you tough questions about your business processes with the intention of exposing critical process issues. Although answering these questions is sometimes uncomfortable, doing so honestly will help your consultant get a better grasp on how current processes and solutions can be improved. You’re only hurting your company if you aren’t willing to talk about weaknesses openly.
From there, they’ll be able to provide an honest assessment of what needs to be improved in order to boost efficiency. Don’t take it personally! They are obligated to perform a candid assessment of your company infrastructure.
Source: Business Insider’s
4) Create a Strategy
Did you know that 72% of SMB decision makers say that technology solutions can help them significantly improve business outcomes and/or run the business better? A strategic planning consultant is current on the solutions that can most help your business streamline their processes. Hiring one will take the guesswork of determining which technologies are best for your business to implement when automating your workflow. When your technology works for you, and not the other way around, you see a greater return on investment.
Workflow automation isn’t just about technology, though. Your consultant will also be able to help your business determine different project management tactics that help your company become more efficient.
5) Enforce Execution
Old habits die hard. However, in order to see if a new process is effective, you need to try it for a period of time. A strategic planning consultant will help ensure that your company is doing this and staying on track. If there are any questions or concerns throughout the process, they’ll be able to help address those as well.
Maximize Your Time with a Strategic Planning Consultant
In order to maximize your time with a strategic planning consultant, come prepared with ideas of the processes that you want to improve in your business. While your consultant will analyze your current workflow and offer ideal solutions, it’s a good idea to be armed with ideas of processes that you feel your business can do more efficiently.
Additionally, come up with questions before your meetings. The more informed about and confident you are in the process of automating your workflow, the more enjoyable it will be.
Improving Your Workflow
Retooling your workflow, whether with an internal team or external expert, can lead to big benefits for your business. Just like the assembly line helped Ransom Olds and Henry Ford make their processes more efficient and increase their product output, finding ways to automate your workflow can do the same for your company.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can automate your workflow, please reach out. We’re passionate about finding ways to improve your business processes and helping your company thrive.