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6 Steps to Streamlining Your Operational Workflows

We tend to overcomplicate our operational workflows and processes. This happens because we often don’t set aside time to design our processes, but rather come up with these in reaction to something that happens, like a customer asking for a refund, and then that process ends up sticking around. Or we may have designed great, well-thought-out processes when we started out, but then the business goes through a period of rapid growth. Often, the old way of doing things aren’t really working anymore, which causes a bunch of bottlenecks with some people having too much on their plate, causing the whole process to stall.

Before we know it, we end up with patchwork processes that aren’t effective or efficient.

The more streamlined your processes, the better and quicker your team can perform their tasks, saving you time, money, and frustration.

But, how do you actually go about making changes to your workflows? We recommend that you take the following steps to analyse your existing processes and then redesign and implement new, more efficient processes.


Step #1: Take Stock of What You Have

Before you can start to improve anything, you first need to know exactly how an existing process works. So this is naturally the first place where you should start when you want to streamline your workflows.

During this first step, list out every process and workflow in your business. These include your regular day-to-day processes, as well as ad hoc tasks that are typically performed more than once.  

For each workflow, document the following:

  • What is the purpose of the workflow? What are you trying to achieve with it?
  • List out every step followed in the process in the order that they are performed.
  • Write down every person involved in the process. This doesn’t need to be a person’s name, but rather a role, like the sales clerk or the procurement manager.
  • Also, take note of the tools or programs that you use in the workflow.

You may want to concentrate on one department at a time, or you can make different people responsible for documenting the workflows of each division.


Step #2: Analyse Your Existing Processes

Once you’ve documented all workflows, it’s time to start reviewing and analysing them. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are any workflows or steps unnecessary?
  • Which processes are critical?
  • Are there any duplications between processes?
  • Are there any bottlenecks?
  • Are any processes missing or incomplete?

When analysing your existing processes, it’s essential to involve the people who are performing these tasks to get their feedback on what they think isn’t working, which steps or procedures are missing, or if there’s anything they think is redundant.

Make a summary of all the issues, concerns, and questions brought up for each workflow.


Step #3: Design, Tweak, and Document New Processes

Review the notes that you made when analysing the existing processes, and then start to tweak or redesign the workflows. You’ll find that some processes may only need a few minor changes, while others may need a complete reimagination.

Also, think about which processes or steps can be automated. Surprisingly, most small businesses still use excel to run most of their processes on. Using Excel is time-consuming and prone to mistakes such, as finger faults or calculation errors. There are a lot of easy-to-use tools available to businesses that can save you time, money, and minimise the number of errors.

Throughout this process, it’s advisable to get input from the people in the relevant departments.


Step #4: Pitch Adjusted Workflows to All Stakeholders

Once you’ve documented the new processes, it’s time to share these with management, as well as all employees involved, to get their feedback.

It’s important to get everyone on board and on the same page before you start to implement any changes. If management or the people performing these tasks aren’t 100% committed to the new plan, you’ll have endless friction and uncooperativeness on your hands.

Make sure that you explain why the new processes will be more efficient and what they’ll gain if these changes are implemented.

You may find that you need to tweak the workflows a bit further after you received their feedback.


Step #5: Implement and Automate Your New Processes

You can now start to implement the changes – one process at a time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in one day, so don’t try to make changes to existing procedures too quickly or try to make changes to too many procedures at the same time. If you do, your employees will feel overwhelmed and confused, they’ll make a lot of unnecessary mistakes, and they’ll learn how to do things the wrong way which they’ll then have to unlearn later on.

Start with the most critical changes first or make the small tweaks that are easy to implement but which can make a huge difference. You may also want to start with one department at a time.

You should also start to automate the processes which you have identified that could be automated during this stage.

Lastly, one of the most important things to remember when implementing new workflows is that you should spend enough time on training people to use these new tools and follow the new processes. If you don’t, implementing your new procedures won’t go as smoothly as you hoped for, your staff members will become frustrated, and you may even have to revert to the old way of doing things.


Step #6: Refine Your Workflows

No process will be perfect the first time around. You may find that what looked good on paper may not be as practical as you thought it would be.

After you’ve implemented and started following the new processes, know that more tweaks will be needed over time. Also keep in mind that the environment we operate in changes all the time  – new technologies, changing customer needs, adding or changing products/services – and our workflows will need to adapt to take these changes into account.

Make sure that you prepare your staff for this so that they don’t get discouraged if everything doesn’t run smoothly after implementation or if they need to adjust the workflow again after a few months. Ask them to consistently give you feedback on any stumbling blocks that they experience.


Ready to Streamline Your Workflows?

Adjusting your processes is not a task to take on lightly. Know that it’s going to take up a lot of your time and energy, but also know that, if done correctly, your new workflows can save you lots of time and money in the long term.

If you don’t have the time or the expertise in-house to tackle a project of this size while also running the day-to-day business activities, you don’t need to do it on your own. Improving and designing processes from scratch is what we do, so instead of putting this project off indefinitely, get in touch with us to help you streamline your workflows.