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How to Optimize Business Workflows and Improve Efficiency

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How to Optimize Business Workflows and Improve Efficiency

All businesses have one or more business workflows—or business processes— in their day-to-day operations. How efficiently these businesses execute these workflows could ultimately dictate their productivity and efficiency in achieving their objectives. 

All workflows will always have some form of inefficiencies, some are tolerable, but others may severely impact the business’s performance. 

We can’t improve a business’s workflow performance before we understand it, and this is where workflow mapping and workflow analysis come in.

Visualizing the business workflows via workflow mapping helps us better understand how your organization should function, inefficiencies, and strengths that you can leverage. 

In short, by optimizing your business workflows, you can also make the business more efficient and productive. 

Business Process Mapping: Mapping and Analyzing Business Workflows

Business Process Mapping, or BPM, is visualizing business workflows in the form of a workflow diagram. 

Having a comprehensible workflow diagram lets us get a bird’s-eye view of how the business workflow/process works. Workflow mapping would also enable workflow analysis: the methodology of assessing and continuously re-assessing the efficiency of the business workflow. Without an adequately mapped workflow diagram, it’s impossible to analyze the workflow. 

Based on the workflow analysis, we can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and other issues with the business workflows to develop an improvement plan. Ultimately we can use this improvement plan to change, implement new technology/methodology to optimize the business workflow, or even completely revamp the workflow. 

We can do workflow mapping with various methods and techniques, but the most popular way is to use an ANSI standard flowchart. In a flowchart, we’ll use different shapes and connectors to represent the various actions in the business workflow. 

While there are many different flowchart symbols and shapes, here are the most important ones for workflow mapping: 

Terminator: the oval shape represents the start and end points of a process

Operation: rectangle represents a specific task that is performed

Decision: diamond represents a point in the process where a decision must be made (i.e. Yes/No) before we can move on to the next step. 

Arrows: connecting different shapes in the process, representing the direction and flow of information

Step-by-Step Guide to Optimizing Business Workflows

Step 1: Pick a business workflow

While in the end, ideally, you should map and optimize all business workflows in your organization, it’s best to focus on one workflow at a time to ensure efficient use of our resources. 

If your business has more than one business workflow (as most companies do), there are three main approaches we can use to decide on a business workflow: 

  1. Reactive: picking a workflow with obvious flaws/inefficiencies so we can plug the ‘leaks.’ 

  2. Strategic: picking a business workflow that is very important for your business (i.e., has a significant contribution to achieving your main objective). 

  3. Customer-centric: picking a business workflow that will significantly affect customer satisfaction (i.e., shortening the queue/wait time). 

Step 2:  Data Gathering

Once you’ve picked a workflow to optimize, the next step is to gather as much information as possible about the business workflow. 

This can involve observing how the workflow is currently executed, interviewing team members and stakeholders involved in the workflow, etc. We should identify at the very least: 

  • The start and endpoints for the business workflow

  • All the steps involved in the workflow

  • Who’s responsible for which tasks

  • The sequence tasks must be executed (for a sequential workflow)

  • The deadline for each task

Step 3: Draft the Business Workflow Map

The next step is to draft the diagram for the business workflow based on the data you’ve gathered in the previous step. While you can start with a pen and paper to draw your workflow map, it’s best to use a workflow builder from your workflow management solution so you can edit and monitor the workflow map without needing to move between different tools in the next steps. 

Use the different flowchart shapes as discussed above to represent the various steps of the process, which should cover: 

  1. Input: any asset (information, equipment, capital, human resource) that’s required to complete a certain step

  2. Transformation: The input that creates the output. The changes can be movements (between one location and another), changes in physical shapes/characteristics, changes in ownership, etc. 

  3. Output: the result of this transformation.

Step 3: Workflow Analysis

Once we’ve got an as-is workflow map draft, we can move to workflow analysis. 

The goal here is to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks so we can develop an improvement plan. We should analyze each step of the business workflow by considering: 

  1. The objective(s) and purpose(s) of each task

  2. Whom is the process supposed to serve?

  3. What are the criteria for an exemplary process for this specific workflow

  4. Is this step needed to fulfill the objective? 

  5. Can we simplify or automate the step?

  6. Can the approval process be eliminated into a simple notification instead?

  7. Can we ensure everyone always have enough data to perform their task?

Based on this analysis, we can create a comprehensive improvement plan to optimize the workflow. 

Step 4: Implementing changes and finalizing the workflow diagram

Based on the previous analysis, we can implement the planned workflow changes and update the workflow diagram accordingly. It’s crucial to embrace the fact that the business workflow won’t be perfect, and we’ll need to revisit the workflow and re-optimize it continuously. 

Involve the employees and stakeholders to review the improvement: is it more efficient than the previous workflow? How should we further improve the workflow?

Closing Thoughts

By mapping, analyzing, and optimizing business workflows, we can also improve our organization’s overall efficiency and productivity. With the help of workflow analysis and management tools like Aproove, you can generate a workflow diagram and analyze the workflow in a single platform, making the optimization more effortless and more cost-effective.

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