We’ve been looking at a three-step management approach to effective technology strategy: 1. Create proper accountability; 2. Put people first; and 3. Own your processes. Today we’re looking at process. Simply put, it means doing the same things the same way, every time.
Process means freedom. It gets you and your people out of the daily grind.
What would your business feel like if every project were handled the same way, every time? What if all your people in the same job function performed their jobs in the same way, using the same tools? And what if you had complete visibility into what was happening in every area of your business, right now?
For one thing, you’d probably feel more relaxed. Certainly, your people would feel more engaged. This is because owning your processes leads to consistency, and consistency is the antidote to the constant “firefighting” that is prevalent in so many businesses. Nailing process is proactive, rather than reactive. You’re getting out in front of problems. And you’re out of the weeds. Process means freedom. It gets you and your people out of the daily grind.
Defining your core processes is a pure business problem. It can be daunting, though – especially for a complex process like furniture procurement. One simple truth helps me examine and define complex problems: a process has a beginning and end. Once you define these points, filling the gaps in the middle is relatively simple.
A process can also have sub processes. Again, each of these has a definite starting and ending point. Consider what event triggers the start, and what event ends the process. The spaces between processes, when the triggering event closes one process and/or kicks off a subsequent process is often where notifications happen, where you update relevant parties.
A process needs an output. If there’s no output, then the process has no purpose. The output is something tangible, like a file or an entry in a database, or calendar, etc. Please note that a process usually also requires inputs. Those inputs are usually the outputs of upstream steps.
Unfortunately, many businesses stop at process definition, rendering the whole initiative useless. You must implement the process. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to do in a business. This is where process becomes a technology problem.
Process works best when it’s “baked in” to your business. In the IT world, this is called BPM, or Business Process Management. In a proper BPM solution, the process automatically moves forward based on defined triggers, which are usually based on a combination of status, events and dates. The BPM solution will automatically update the project status, and subsequent inputs, tasks and outputs are all assigned and tracked automatically.
Do not confuse this with task management. There are so many programs for creating, assigning and updating tasks. In a BPM, though, everything is tied to the process and works together to move the process along. If your method of moving a project through a process requires someone to manually change the value of a “status” field in your business system, then you need to think about a BPM solution.
Unfortunately, of the four of five leading business system vendors in the contract furniture space, only one of them has figured this out and includes a BPM solution in the base product. For everyone else, you are unfortunately looking at driving process manually to some extent.
NOTE: I’m actively exploring third party solutions to close this gap for dealers who use the other business systems. I’ll let know when I’ve solved the problem. I’d love to hear from you if you have figured this out for your business.
Reporting is the last vital component of process implementation. You need tools that provide complete visibility into your processes, so you can see what is happening in all areas of your dealership at any given time. A simple way to start is to design a collection of reports that summarize how much business you currently have in each step of the process. If you’re using BPM then you can also identify which projects might be lagging, or which projects are at risk for cost over runs. When you’re ready to go deeper you can think about KPIs and Dashboards to set performance targets for team members as they contribute to each job as it moves through your process.
Finally, when your processes are clearly defined and implemented and everything is humming along, then it’s time to look at automation. Remember in the last column we said that automation is a people first technology? This is where that comes into play. Examine your process to identify repetitious tasks that can be automated. There are some great vendors who can help you with this. Your people will thank you for offloading those monotonous tasks from their daily workload.
This whole area of process definition, implementation and tracking is probably one of the biggest weaknesses that I’ve seen in the dealership business. That’s a big problem, because having consistent processes and the right technology to drive and track them is a huge contributor to creating a relaxed, customer and growth-oriented company with happy employees.